As Steve and I explore the world, we keep our eyes open for things that tickle our fancy or confound us. Sometimes these are cute, confusing, or funny signs. Here are fifteen of our favorites.
Some signs are just too cute, like this “puppy parking” sign near a grocery store in Barcelona.
Or this one, also in Barcelona, that I think we can all relate to.
Or this sign on a candy store’s door in Aruba. Yes, Ryan, being able to buy candy whenever you want is certainly one of the perks of adulting.
Some signs have made us scratch our heads. This “no pets” sign is at the FirstMed medical offices in Budapest. I understand the cat and dog, but do people really try to bring their pet rabbits to the doctor’s office?
Most traffic signs are self-explanatory. However, neither Steve nor I could figure out what the lower sign is trying to communicate.
Another “no dogs” sign. This one was at the beach in Balatonfüred, Hungary. It is quite breed specific. Does this mean you can bring your Bichon Frise?
The following two signs show that the more things change, the more they stay the same. These were in Memento Park in Budapest. The park is dedicated to preserving the memory of the 45 years Hungary was under Soviet control. I find it interesting that both signs pertain to things that are happening today.
This sign referencing male genitals (date unknown) brings to mind the transgender issues we are grappling with today.
And I think we can all agree that the world seems to be upside down for quite a while now.
Bad translations always make Steve and I laugh. Don’t get me wrong; we are grateful whenever someone makes an effort to translate to English. Even so, we find the bad translations funny.
We were careful not to grass pass after seeing this sign in Sofia, Bulgaria.
A travel agency in the Galapagos Islands gets an A for effort, but a D for execution.
One of the biggest worldwide problems appears to be dealing with human waste. This sign in Tihany, Hungary, blew my mind.
Apparently, people in Prague also have to be told how to properly use the toilet
And it worries me that a sign below, in the Florida Panhandle, is even necessary.
Ditto for these two signs in Lillafüred, Hungary, telling people not to poop in the park. Really?
Lastly, I think we can all agree that this sign in a restaurant in Aveiro, Portugal, got it right.
I hope you have enjoyed these signs. Drop us a line in the comments section and let us know your favorite. Or, perhaps you can solve the mystery of the car on fire.
Steve and I also like to find and photograph street art. Check out some of the street art we have seen in Europe and Latin America.
Are you thinking of visiting Budapest? Go for it. This Hungarian city in Central Europe is chock full of beauty and history.
Steve and I arrived in Budapest in March 2020 for a four-week stay. Because of the pandemic, we ended up staying for more than two years. During this time, we have explored every corner of the city and are happy to be able to share 75 things to know when visiting Budapest.
I know that 75 tips sound like a lot, but they are short and divided by category. I have highlighted the main tips and shared a few top tips.
Be sure to read to the end for a bonus tip. You can thank me later.
Layout of the City
1. The Danube River divides the city into two sides: Buda and Pest. The west side is Buda. The east side is Pest.
2. Buda is hilly. Pest is flat.
3. Pest is the touristy, party side. Buda is the quiet, stately side. As a tourist, you will probably stay in Pest.
4. The two sides weren’t connected until 1849, when the iconic Chain Bridge was built.
5. The Chain Bridge is currently closed for renovation. The work is expected to be completed in August 2023.
6. There are 23 districts in Budapest.
7. Street signs are plentiful. They usually have the district on the sign. This sign tells us that it is district 9. Utca means street.
8. During the first Covid lockdown, Steve and I often commented on how clean the streets and sidewalks were. We thought it was because there were so few people out. Once the lockdown ended, we were happy to see that the streets were still very clean. Street sweeping machines and people sweeping and washing the sidewalks are common sights.
9. Tourism in Budapest has grown steadily over the last decade. According to Statistica.com, the annual number of tourists doubled from 2.3 million in 2009 to 4.6 million in 2019.
10. Most stores, restaurants, and attractions will be closed during holidays. These are the holidays that are celebrated in Hungary:
New Year’s Day
Memorial Day of the 1848 Revolution
Date varies - a Friday in late March or early April
Date varies - a Sunday in late March or early April
Date varies - a Monday in late March or early April
Date varies - a Sunday in late May or early June
Date varies - a Monday in late May or early June
State Foundation Day
1956 Revolution Memorial Day
All Saint’s Day
2nd Day of Christmas
11. Easter weekend can be especially challenging since most stores and many restaurants are closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. As you would expect, the stores are especially crowded on the Thursday before the weekend and the Saturday in the middle.
12. Dates are written with the day, then the month, then the year. So Christmas Day, 2019, would be written 25/12/2019.
13. Names are written last name first. When they are translated into English, the first name is first. So I am Gerbec Linda in Hungarian.
14. When a woman got married, traditionally, she not only took her husband’s last name, but she also changed her first name to his with “ne” added to the end. So a woman marrying a man named Istvan would become Istvanne. Modern women generally keep their own first name and may keep their maiden name if they wish.
15. Hungary is in the European Union (EU) and the Schengen Area. Visitors from the U.S. can spend up to 90 days out of 180 in the Schengen area, so you could spend up to 90 days in Hungary without procuring a special visa, providing you do not visit any other Schengen area country for the subsequent 90 days. Citizens of all other countries should be sure they understand the visa rules for their country.
16. Even though Hungary is in the EU, it does not use Euro. The official currency of Hungary is the forint (HUF).
17. Some stores accept Euro and you might even see a sign telling you the exchange rate.
18. Paper bills start at 500 forints and go to 20,000 forints. Coins range from 5 forints to 200 forints.
19. It can be disconcerting when you first use forints because of the large numbers. In addition, commas are used where Americans use periods, and periods are used where we use commas. So a charge of 18.000,00 would equal about US$50.
20. As of this writing, 1 USD = 367 forints. 1 Euro = 394 forints
21. ATMs are readily available, but you may want to try a few to get the best one for you. As a holder of a U.S. bank account, I found the Sopron Bank ATM at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky útca 12 was the best deal.
22. A standard restaurant tip is 10-15%. However, a service charge is often added to the bill, so you should check before calculating your tip. If there is a service charge, it will usually vary from 10-12.5%. We often tip a little extra directly to the server, which should be handed to him, not left on the table.
23. Credit cards are widely accepted, but it is wise to carry some forints.
24. The value-added tax, which is similar to sales tax, is 27%. This is the highest in the world.
25. The official language of Hungary is Hungarian (Magyar).
26. The Hungarian alphabet has 44 letters, including 14 vowels.
27. Some letters have more than one character. Seven letters have two characters, and one has three characters.
28. Each letter only has one sound, so once you learn each letter’s pronunciation, you can easily pronounce words. Here is a fun video on how to pronounce the letters of the Hungarian alphabet.
29. The letter sounds may not be what you think. For example, the letter S has the sound SH in Hungarian. So Budapest becomes Budapesht, and the grocery chain Spar is pronounced Shpar.
30. Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to learn for native English speakers. This is because the syntax is different, and often words that are separate in English get added to the end of the subject word.
31. English is widely spoken in businesses that cater to tourists. It is not so widely spoken in other places. We have found that most younger Hungarians are fluent in English, but older people are not since they grew up during Soviet rule when learning Russian was compulsory.
32. English translations are prevalent on public transportation and in museums and other tourist attractions. The translations are better than many of those we have found in other countries.
33. Here are some words that can help you while you are in Hungary courtesy of MyEnglishTeacher.eu. We use Hello – Jó napot! [yo nah-pot], Thank you – Köszönöm [koh-soh-nohm], and You’re welcome – Szívesen [see-ve-shan] the most.
The Public Transportation System
34. Budapest is easy to get around. There is an extensive metro, tram, and bus system, and it is also a very walkable city.
35. We found the transportation system easy to use and very clean.
36. The transportation system is run by BKK. Here is their website.
37. The metro, tram, and bus systems within the city all use the same ticket. They are easy to buy at machines found at many stops. As of this writing, an individual ticket is 330 ft (less than US$1), but you can lower the cost to 300 ft per ticket by buying a group of ten.
38. A part of Metro Line 3 is currently under renovation and being replaced by buses. It is expected to be completed in March 2023.
39. There is a bus that runs between the airport and the city center (Deák Ferenc tér). It is easy to use and takes a special ticket. Here is more information on that bus.
40. Be sure to validate your ticket. Here is the BKK information on how to validate your ticket.
41. Top Tip
If you take nothing else away from this article, be sure to hold onto your ticket until you’re completely off the vehicle or out of the metro station. It is common for ticket checkers to screen passengers in the metro stations. The charge for traveling without a ticket is 8,000 ft. (about US$22) if you pay on the spot. It doubles if you can not pay immediately.
Three Cool Things About the Transportation System
42. Metro Line 1 was the first underground in mainland Europe and has been in constant operation since 1896. It consists of only 11 stops.
43. You can take a funicular up the hill to Buda Castle and the Castle District. The Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló) is a 150-year-old funicular railway that will take you from Adam Clark Square at the end of the Buda side of the Chain Bridge up to the Buda Castle and back down again. It requires a special ticket. Learn more about it here.
44. There is also a chairlift run by BKK. This takes you up to János Hill and back down. János Hill is the home of the Elizabeth Lookout tower. It also has hiking trails, and the Children’s Railway runs through it. Like the funicular, this requires a special ticket. Here is the chairlift information.
Other Ways to Get Around
45. There are currently three e-scooter companies operating in the city: Lime Bike, Bird, and Tier. We have only used Lime Bike, and it works great. It is all done via an app, and it is the best sharing app we have tried so far. The scooters are easy to find and in good condition. After my second e-scooter accident, I gave up riding them. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy them. You can read about that experience here.
Taxi’s and Ride Sharing
46. Uber is not allowed to operate in Hungary.
47. There are plenty of taxis, but it is often suggested that you should either hire one through a hotel or negotiate the price before you get in. They have been known to rip off tourists.
48. I have noticed a taxi service called Bolt on Google Maps but have not tried it.
49. The MOL Bubi Budapest bike-share system works well. You can find bikes all over the city. You will need to register on their app before you ride.
50. Most streets have crosswalks painted on them. If there is no traffic light, all you have to do is step off the curb, and traffic is required to stop. Still look both ways; bikes and scooters don’t always stop.
51. If there is a traffic light, obey the walk/don’t walk signs.
52. While it is common for traffic in many cities to stop if a pedestrian sets foot in a crosswalk, in Budapest, many cars stop even if you are still on the curb.
53. Cross bike lanes like you cross a street. Look both ways.
54. Top Tip
Be extra careful on the sidewalks. Scooters, bikes, and even motor scooters and motorcycles often ride on them. The worst part is that you seldom get a warning when one of the riders wants to pass you. It is best to walk like you drive; look over your shoulder before moving to the left or right.
55. If you are looking for a local SIM card, the three main providers are Telekom, Yettel (formerly Telenor), and Vodafone. We used Vodafone when we first got to Budapest, but their customer service was horrible: it was not uncommon to wait for an hour or more to talk to a clerk at the store. We switched to Telekom, which has been great.
56. The European emergency number is 112. The operators speak English, which I learned when I had to call after getting stuck in an elevator in Bulgaria.
Food (and Water)
57. The tap water in Hungary is safe to drink.
58. Langos are huge slabs of fried dough with toppings. Some of the most popular toppings are sour cream and cheese or Nutella.
59. As someone from the U.S. who grew up with goulash made from ground beef and macaroni, I was surprised to learn that Hungarian goulash is traditionally served as a soup. We have seen it served on a plate in a few places.
60. Paprika is popular in Hungary. You will see it everywhere. Chicken paprikash makes good use of it. Steve cooks this delectable version.
61. You will also see (and smell) chimney cakes. Chimney cakes are made with a sweet dough that is wrapped around a cylinder and baked. The dough can be coated with different things like cinnamon or walnuts, and they can be eaten empty or filled with any combination of ice cream, whipped cream, or Nutella.
62. Bags are not provided at grocery stores. You can either buy them at check out or bring your own.
63. Groceries will not be bagged either. Most grocery stores have an area where you should bag your groceries. Simply put them back in the cart or basket as they are rung up, and move to the counter to bag them.
64. Pharmacies are indicated by a green cross. In addition to prescription medicine, you buy over-the-counter medicine here, too.
65. Over-the-counter medicines (OTC) are sold in small quantities and are pricey compared to what you can buy in the U.S. As of this writing, 20 200mg Advil capsules cost over $7.00. It is best to bring any OTC medicines you may need.
66. Drug stores, such as Rossmann and DM, sell toiletries, household cleaners, and personal care items.
Unique Things to See and Do
67. Budapest has 123 thermal springs, some of which feed the city’s thermal baths. Here is information about six of the baths along with tips for your visit.
68. The most well-known bath complex in Budapest is the century-old Szechenyi Baths. A bright yellow neo-baroque building surrounds the outdoor pools.
69. Another iconic bath complex is the Gellert Baths. Along with the companion Gellert Hotel, the baths are closed for renovation.
70. For something more modern, consider Aquaworld. You can visit their waterpark for the day or stay in the attached hotel and enjoy both the waterpark and the hotel’s wellness center. As our six visits will attest, we love Aquaworld. You can read more about it here.
71. Top Tip
make sure that in addition to your swimsuit and towel, you bring flip flops, the kind made of a rubbery material, not street shoes.
72. Ruin bars were originally underground bars set up in abandoned or decaying buildings. The bars were decorated with cheap, free, or even discarded furniture and novelties, eclecticism in the extreme. You don’t need to be a partier to enjoy them, as they are now open for lunches and dinners. Read Nomadic Matt’s take on ruin bars here.
Kolodko Mini Statues
73. The mini statues are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. Some of the statues were commissioned, but others were placed around the city Banksy style by Kolodko. Some are whimsical, some are historical, and some are social commentary. There are Kolodko statues in a few other cities, but Budapest has the most. Read more about them here.
A Few More Things
74. Hopefully, you will not need medical care while visiting Budapest, but if you do, I recommend FirstMed. The entire staff speaks English, and they provide excellent medical care.
75. If you need to print something, here are two good print shops: In District VII: Hi Res Digit(All) Wesselényi utca 16 https://www.digit-all.hu
For a fabulous breakfast, stop in at Cirkusz Cafe. They serve breakfast and brunch from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday. Be warned, the lines can get long in the morning, so if you are interested in breakfast, it is best to get there early.
Steve and I took a five-night trip to Szeged, Hungary, in March. One of the reasons was to visit the thermal baths at Sunshine Aquapolis Szeged, which are connected to the Hunguest Hotel Forrás. We also wanted to see the Art Nouveau buildings that grace the city after it was rebuilt following a devastating flood in 1879.
Read on to learn more about the city and the best things to do in Szeged.
Szeged is 109 miles (176 km) southeast of Budapest near the borders of Serbia and Romania.
Szeged can be reached by train from Budapest in less than two and a half hours.
Szeged is the third-largest city in Hungary behind Budapest and Debrecen.
The Tizsa River divides the city into two parts, the western side, referred to as Szeged, and the eastern side, referred to as New Szeged.
It is easy to get around the city on foot or by public transportation.
Szeged is home to the University of Szeged, one of the most distinguished universities in Hungary.
Szeged is referred to as the city of sunshine.
English was spoken almost everywhere we went.
For an in-depth look at all things travel in Szeged, check out this site.
Szeged’s Unique History
Szeged has been inhabited since ancient times and was first mentioned in a royal charter from 1183. As you would expect, it saw many battles and many changes. But the event that makes this city unique could have wiped it out.
In 1879, most of the city was destroyed by a flood. Reconstruction during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries has led to a city of relatively modern architecture.
What to Do in Szeged
1. Marvel at the Architecture
During the decades when the city was being rebuilt after the flood, the Art Nouveau style was popular, so Szeged has many lovely buildings in this style.
Since our first full day in the city was a Monday, and many attractions were closed, we did a walking tour. Despite the cold and a few snow flurries, we managed to see quite a few stunning buildings. Here are a few highlights:
The Bridge of Sighs was modeled after the one in Venice. It connects City Hall and the House of Labor.
Detail on the facade of the Beregi Palace
2. Visit the Votive Church
The Votive Church overlooks Dóm Square. This Roman Catholic cathedral is the fourth largest in Hungary. Construction began in 1913, but because of WWI, it wasn’t completed until 1930.
Before you enter the church, you will be captivated by its beauty and abundance of decoration. The exterior is sparkling clean, which you can’t say about all the architectural gems in Szeged.
Detail on the front of the Votive Church
More details on the exterior of the church
After you finish marveling at the exterior beauty, you can have a look around the inside of the cathedral.
After that, visit the tower and exhibition. The entrance to these is in front of the Church and underground. There is a small fee for each thing you choose to do.
We climbed the tower, but frankly, the city was not lovely from up high. Perhaps because of the time of year.
We spent quite a while in the exhibition hall. It is the most spacious exhibition hall we have seen, and everything is well marked in Hungarian and English. Whether or not you are religious, if you appreciate beautiful things, this is a worthwhile exhibit.
3. Tour the New Synagogue
Hands down, this was the best thing we saw in Szeged. The synagogue is breathtaking. If you visit, be sure to download the Jewish Heritage Szeged app. It is very well done.
Unlike the Votive Church, there aren’t separate activities in the synagogue. Most of the things to see are on the first floor, but there is so much beauty and so much history (thanks to the app) that a visit to the New Synagogue may end up being one of your favorite things to do in Szeged.
The interior of the New Synagogue
A trio of windows in the synagogue; you can learn about their meanings from the app
4. Get Your Art Fix at Reök Palace
Built in 1907, Reök Palace was originally an apartment building. Now it is the Regional Arts Center. The building is large, but the art center fills only part of it.
A corner view of Reök Palace
I was so excited to visit the center and see the exhibits showcased on their website, including an Art Nouveau exhibit and a Dali exhibit. Unfortunately, both of these exhibits had already closed, which was not obvious on their website.
The two exhibits we saw, Dante’s Universe and Digital Testimonials, were interesting enough, but I left disappointed. Hopefully, the art center will update its website and be clearer about the dates of exhibits.
Architectural details on the Reök Palace
5. Stroll Through the National Pantheon
Like the Votive Church, the National Pantheon is in Dóm Square. Sculptures of famous Hungarians fill three covered walkways.
One of the three sides of the Pantheon
If you are not from this part of the world (or a Hungarian history scholar), most of the names probably won’t mean much to you. The attraction here is the individuality of the memorials.
Some of the unique memorials in the Pantheon
6. Stop by the Mora Ferenc Museum
We didn’t visit this museum; the siren call of the baths was too strong.
The museum offers ethnography, natural history, and fine art exhibitions related to Szeged and the surrounding area. Be sure to check the website before you visit. As of this writing, several exhibits were closed for renovations.
The front of the Mora Ferenc Museum (photo by Szilas on Wikimedia Commons)
Where We Stayed
We spent five nights at the Hunguest Hotel Forrás. The hotel is on the east side of the River Tisza, but just a short walk or bus ride to the center of town on the west side.
We chose it because, as regular readers know, we love the thermal baths. The hotel is next door to the Sunshine Aquapolis Szeged, which you can access through an enclosed walkway.
Overall, we enjoyed our stay, which included half board. Both breakfast and dinner were buffets, and the food was pretty good. As we’ve found throughout Hungary, the hotel staff was cordial and helpful, although it did take three requests before Steve got the correct size robe.
The silent wellness area; yes, it is as relaxing as it looks
Is Szeged Worth Visiting?
I can’t imagine Szeged topping anyone’s list of must-see cities, but if you are in the area, it can be worth a quick look.
If you’ve been to Szeged, Steve and I would love to know what you thought of it and if you discovered any treasures I haven’t included here. Just head to the comment section below.
If you are lucky enough to visit Budapest, you will be treated to many architectural delights. And if you look at the buildings closely, you can discover unexpected and unique architectural ornaments.
Steve and I spent the two years of the pandemic in Budapest, so I have had a lot of time to explore the city. In this post, I share some of my favorite architectural ornaments.
The building at Régi posta utca 15 has four mythological reliefs. This one shows Leda, the Queen of Sparta, being seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan.
On the same building, you can see the gods Mercury and Bacchus, and the goddess and muse of dance and chorus, Terpsichore.
A trio of musical angels hang out on a 130-year-old building at Báthory utca 20.
I love this charming relief on the building at Dalszínház utca 9, and I want to know the story behind it.
Check out these endearing reliefs at Váci utca 66. The building originally belonged to the Serbian Orthodox Parish. The reliefs represent the four seasons and qualities such as joy and jealousy.
These are a few of the details on the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music at Liszt Ferenc tér 8, a stunning art nouveau building. You can see more of it, inside and out, here.
As you can imagine, the Matthias Church at Szentháromság tér 2 is full of imagery. These two fellows caught our eye.
The hunting scene on one of the buildings on Szarvas tér added a little bit of color.
This relief at Vadász utca 38-40 takes you back to a more elegant time.
A walk down Fortuna ucta in the Castle District is a delightful change of pace. Here the buildings are simpler and painted in pastel colors. Visit this shepherd and his friend at Fortuna utca 25.
Here is one of the many detailed reliefs on the Shuttleworth House at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky utca 63. You can see more of the intricate facade here.
Say hello to these two sailors when you pass by Havas utca 1-3. Even though Hungary is landlocked, the country does have a navy. Hungary’s navy is river-based on the Danube River.
I was surprised to see these decorations on the building at the corner of Tompa utca and Ferenc körút. I believe the figure on the left in the middle relief is Mercury. If you know the story behind these reliefs, please share.
How can you not love this lion on the image-rich building at Jókai utca 42?
Can you ever have too many naked babies on your buildings? These cuties delight passersby at Váci utca 16.
How is this for a fancy facade? This is the Stein Palace at Andrássy utca 1.
Ten statues circle the building at Deák Ferenc utca 16. It is currently home to Ritz Carlton Budapest, but was originally the office of the Adriatic Insurance Company. The statues circling the building represent the different types of insurance the company offered.
Aren’t these balconies at Nádor utca 32 incredible?
I call this the Centerfold Building because the reclining man on top reminds me of the famous Burt Reynolds photo in Cosmo. You can see this sexy guy at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út 21.
What a fun and fitting statue at the entrance to the Szechenyi Baths at Állatkerti krt. 12.
Other Cool Decorations
Two griffins on an intricately carved door, or is it a Gryffindor? Either way, you can admire it at Gyulai Pál utca 11.
If you have to have window grates, you might as well make them unique. These are on the Ministry of Education and Culture building at Szemere utca 12.
These angels watch over an apartment building at Váci utca 6.
Detailed frescoes on the apartment building at Rákóczi utca 7 are just two of the many decorations on this neo-Gothic gem with Moorish influences.
This door handle is the only indoor item in this post. It is in the Museum of Fine Arts at Dózsa György út 41.
Don’t forget to look down to see even more marvels. These three maintenance hole covers and the floor plaque (clockwise from upper left) are at Andrássy utca 22, Kristóf tér 2, the Árkád Mall, and Deák Ferenc utca 13.
These are only of few of the delightful decorations you can find when exploring Budapest. Steve and I would love to hear what you think of them. Have you seen any of them? Do you have favorites that are not in this post? Let us know in the comments section.
Are you wondering how much it costs to travel the world full-time? Then you are in luck. It’s that time of year when I summarize and share our full-time travel costs for the previous year.
Because of the pandemic, we spent all of 2021 in Hungary. Even though our 2021 costs are not representative of our usual travel costs, I decided to share them in the interest of continuity, just as I did for 2020.
A Little Background
My husband Steve and I are from Jacksonville, Florida. We are retired and travel full-time. We began in 2018. You can see a list of the cities and countries we have visited here. Before the pandemic, we would usually spend four weeks in each location.
How Did We End Up in Hungary?
We began 2020 with a ski trip to Bansko, Bulgaria. Not only was the skiing disappointing, but instead of staying one month, we were there for nine weeks while Steve recovered from a serious skiing accident. You can read about that experience in “Hospitalized in Bulgaria.”
Steve was able to travel by mid-March. The pandemic was in its early stages, and we had to decide whether to stay in Europe or return to the U.S. We decided to stay in Europe since the long trip back to the U.S. would have been difficult for Steve. We headed to Budapest, the next destination on our itinerary. We’ve been here ever since.
SSDY (Same Stuff, Different Year)
By the end of 2020, we were hoping the pandemic would end in the early part of 2021, and we could all return to normal. Well, things didn’t quite work out that way. As the pandemic held tight, we renewed our residence permits for another year. This allows us to stay in Hungary until July 2022.
Hungary shut down all but essential services from November 2020 through April 2021. Being locked down for the first four months of 2021 meant lower food, transportation, and activity costs. Once the country opened up and we were vaccinated, we made up for lost time by exploring Hungary.
Are We Glad We Stayed in Europe?
As we wait for the world to open, I often think about our decision to stay in Budapest instead of returning to the U.S. at the start of the pandemic. Both Steve and I have repeatedly said that if we are going to be “stuck,” it’s a great place to be stuck.
In Budapest we can live less expensively than in the U.S. and don’t need a car. If we had returned to Jacksonville, we would have had to rent a car and probably would have ended up buying one when it became apparent we would be staying a while. And when it is time to resume our travels, we are already where we want to be. No Transatlantic flights required.
It’s easy to fall in love with this beautiful city on the Danube (clockwise from upper left: the Chain Bridge, Fishermans Bastion, Vaci Street, Szechenyi Baths)
As hard as this pandemic has been on everyone, I think Steve and I will look back to our time in Budapest fondly.
So let’s get to it. What did we budget, and what did we spend?
Our 2021 Costs by Category
Here it is: we budgeted $47,900 for travel and spent $42,300. Our cost per day was $116.
Over (Under) Budget
Don’t let these numbers scare you. Our style of travel is higher than backpacker level and lower than luxury level. I would classify it as three-star. If you are considering full-time or long-term travel, you can do it for much less. There are tools and posts that can give you more insight into the cost of travel in the Ways to Travel for Less section.
A Few Notes About This Data
* all costs are in U.S. dollars * all costs are for two people * it only includes expenses directly related to travel
The following items are not included: * stateside medical insurance * routine prescriptions * base cost of our AT&T cell phone plan * storage of our possessions in the U.S. * clothing (unless purchased for a specific reason like ski wear)
Where We Were Over Budget
Lodging – by $1,900. We were able to stay under our $1,400 per month budget for our accommodations in Budapest. We ate up that savings and then some by spending $2,900 on hotel stays during our side trips (more on that below) and $1,400 for a place for our daughters to stay while visiting us for two weeks since the four of us would have been crowded in our apartment.
The living room of our daughters’ Airbnb
Insurance – by $500. This includes any insurance we purchase related to travel.
There are two items in this category: our annual evacuation policy from Medjet and travel health insurance from SafetyWing.
The Medjet policy costs us $1,100 per year.
We added SafetyWing Nomad Insurance for Steve in 2021 since he had turned 65 and had to go on Medicare. That meant that he no longer had coverage outside of the U.S. as he did with his Florida Blue policy. A condition of our residence permits is that we have medical insurance that will cover us in Hungary.
Our budget was $1,600 for this. The total cost was $2,100 because we added a policy for me at the end of 2021 in anticipation of losing my Florida Blue coverage since I am turning 65 early in 2022.
The good news is if you are younger than us, you will pay less for SafetyWing. Coverage for people under forty is only $42 for four weeks as of this writing.
Visas – by $900. We did not budget for this. When we applied for our first residence permit in 2020, we did it ourselves. It was stressful and required three trips to the government office, where we sat for hours and hours. This time we hired a firm to expedite the process. We used nVisa and were very happy with them. We were in and out of the office within an hour. Were we happy spending an unplanned $900? No. But in this case, it was worth it to save our sanity.
Office Related Items– by $300. $150 was for a printer for our daughter so she can scan mail for us. $90 was for the mailing of items like new credit cards. The remaining $60 was for miscellaneous copies, photos, and supplies.
Website – by $200. I have added two tools that are helpful while working on this website. They were not budgeted but are worth the additional expense. They are the premium version of Grammarly, which catches all sorts of errors and makes helpful suggestions ($140 per year), and the premium version of Rank Math Pro for SEO guidance ($59 per year). Both of these have a free version.
Other – over by $100. This includes things like currency exchange charges and laundry. Both are items we avoid whenever possible.
Where We Were Under Budget
Food – under by $1,400 since we ate at home for the first half of the year.
Transportation – under by $3,100. Being unable to travel the first half of the year saved us tons. The $2,900 spent on transportation includes $1,800 for our daughters’ round trip flights from Orlando, $1,000 on bus, train, and metro tickets and $100 for lounge access when our daughters’ flight was delayed twelve hours.
Activities – under by $4,500. Again, because of the lockdown.
Medical – under budget by $500. This is the hardest category to budget. We estimated costs of $1,200.
Our actual costs were $1,600: $1,300 on annual medical plans for both of us with FirstMed, a private health care provider with English-speaking staff and $300 for Covid testing for our daughters’ visit.
These were offset by reimbursements of $900 from Florida Blue for some of our 2020 overseas expenses, resulting in a net expense of $700.
The FirstMed plan covers primary and specialty visits, annual exams including a dental exam and an eye exam, and some vaccines. When it became apparent we would be here long-term, it made sense to get the plan. It is definitely less costly than paying for each visit.
If you need medical care in Budapest, we recommend FirstMed. They offer all their services in one location. Our doctors have been excellent, and communication has been flawless.
Side Trips And A Family Visit
Side trips can be a lot of fun, especially after you’ve been cooped up. But they can be budget busters, too.
This table shows our daily cost while in Budapest, on side trips to five Hungarian towns, and during our daughters’ visit:
Cost per Day
Veszprém and Székesfehérvár
Eger and Lillafüred
As you can see, we spent more than twice as much per day on side trips than we did while in Budapest.
These trips put us over budget for lodging since we were paying rent in Budapest and also paying for hotel stays. We also chose more luxurious hotel rooms than we usually do.
Once we were vaccinated, we quickly discovered a love of the thermal baths prevalent in Hungary. We visited Aquaworld Resort Budapest in July and enjoyed it so much we went back three more times. You can read about our first visit in “3 Carefree Days at Aquaworld Budapest.” Every subsequent visit has been just as enjoyable.
We loved exploring Bory Castle, an art-filled private home turned museum in Székesfehérvár.
Bory Castle in Székesfehérvár, Hungary
In December, we had the pleasure of spending two weeks with our daughters, Stephanie and Laura. We hadn’t seen them in two years, so every moment together was special.
Our time with our daughters included a two-night stay at Aquaworld, a visit to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, and a lot of good food. The dining highlight was an Advent brunch at Lang Bistro and Grill in the Budapest Hilton Hotel.
Steve and our daughter, Stephanie, in the Szechenyi Baths on a winter day
Comparison to Previous Years
Here is a look back on our expenses since we started traveling full-time in 2018.
Days in Year
Cost per Day
We spent the most per day in 2018 because of a 15-day cruise and a pricey three-day trip to London for four people. Our inexperience led to some costly choices as well.
I feel that the $145 we spent per day for 2019 is the most representative of what we should expect when we are not in a pandemic.
2020 and 2021 daily costs were low at $114 and $116, respectively. As hard as shut-downs and pandemics are, there is no denying they are kind to the wallet.
Click here for more information on our 2018, 2019, and 2020 travel costs.
How We Travel
Lodging – We rely on Airbnb to provide us with temporary homes at affordable prices. After a few less-than-lovely accommodations in 2018, we upped our lodging budget from $1,000 per month to $1,400 per month. You can read about our rough start with Airbnb and how we learned to find wonderful accommodations in “5 Tips for Finding the Best Airbnb Rentals.”
We stayed in two apartments in 2021. Both were clean, comfortable, and stylish. Both had a kitchen, two bedrooms, a dishwasher, and a clothes washer.
The first was an Airbnb that we renewed monthly. For less than $1,000 per month, we had a living room, kitchen, dining room, two bedrooms, and one and a half baths. It also had more storage space than any apartment we have ever stayed in.
The living room of our first apartment of 2021. Every room was spacious.
We had to move in the spring because we needed a long-term rental in order to get residence permits. We moved smack dab into the center of the city. This apartment costs a bit more because of its desirable locations but is still under our $1,400 per month budget.
Our home until July 2022.
And you can’t beat the views from our 8th-floor windows.
We love our sunset and city views
You can see that you get a lot of bang for your buck in Budapest. Of course, you can spend less and still get a clean, comfortable, and safe place to stay.
Food – I’ll be frank, we eat well. Once we were free to visit restaurants, we ate about a quarter of our lunches and dinners out.
Clockwise from upper left: recovery breakfast at Circusz, fajitas at Tereza, appetizer at Okay Italia, and stuffed cabbage at Kiskakukk
Transportation – We take advantage of public transportation whenever we can. In four years of travel, we have only needed to rent a car outside of the U.S. for two weeks. We have found it easy to get around without a car, especially in Europe.
Insurance – The only travel-related insurance we always have is evacuation insurance from Medjet. Getting other insurance depends on the specific situation, such as when it is required to get a visa.
Ways to Travel for Less
There are many ways to travel for less than we do and still have an amazing trip.
Cut accommodation costs – Airbnb is a good option. Even more economical options include housesitting, hostels, and staying with friends and relatives. Couchsurfing is often mentioned when discussing budget travel, but the leading player, Couchsurfing.com, is going through some growing pains. You can read about that here.
Travel slowly – This keeps the transportation costs down and allows you to take advantage of discounts on Airbnb for long-term stays. It also gives you a chance to immerse yourself in a place.
Use public transportation whenever possible – It isn’t glamorous and can sometimes be uncomfortably crowded, but in many places, it is a quick, convenient, and inexpensive way to get around.
Visit less expensive places – The two links below can help you find the places that will help stretch your dollar (or euro, or peso, or whatever). If you don’t want to do all-budget travel, you can balance expensive places like France and the Galapagos Islands with less costly places like Romania and Croatia, as we have.
Plan side trips wisely – You can limit the number of side trips you take, consider day trips when possible, or tack a short trip on the end of a longer one to avoid paying lodging costs at two places at once.
Here is a website that can show you what you can expect to spend while visiting various countries and cities. Budget Your Trip lets you choose your destination, trip duration, and travel style.
So What Does It Cost to Travel Full-Time for One Year?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. To complicate matters, travelers now have to deal with Covid testing and the possibility of a quarantine. And I would caution that having medical coverage while traveling is important, particularly for those who can’t afford to pay out of pocket.
Here are two blog posts in which travelers share their full-time travel costs:
Here is an excerpt from her post: “Generally, $20,000 is the baseline cost for a trip around the world for one person for one year. This estimation falls in line with popular recommendations that budget travelers can spend an average of $50 a day on the road, and allows additional budget for flights and vaccines.”
So there you have it. Could you do it for less? Probably. It all depends on how you plan and what you are willing to sacrifice.
There are some far-out suggestions on how to save money while traveling, such as sneaking into hostels (NO!) and eating other people’s leftovers (EEW!). It also means there isn’t as much room for errors and unexpected problems.
What’s In Store for Us in 2022?
Life seems to be slowly returning to normal. Like everyone else, we are anxious to get moving again. Once our lease is up in July, we hope to resume our original travel routine of spending four weeks in each location. Where will that be? We have no idea.
Until then, we will take side trips while keeping a home base in Budapest. One possibility is a trip to Vienna, which is just two and a half hours away by train. Another possibility is Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. It is also two and a half hours away by train. There are several more towns in Hungary to explore, too.
Until Next Time
I hope that this has been helpful. If you have any questions about full-time travel costs or what it’s like to travel full-time, please don’t hesitate to ask.
If you are a frequent or full-time traveler, Steve and I would love to hear how the pandemic has affected your travel plans and your travel expenses.
I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are ready to start the new year. Like me, I’m sure you are hoping that 2022 will bring an end to the pandemic and a return to normal.
Despite an increase in Covid cases, our December was remarkable. That is because our daughters, Stephanie and Laura, visited us in Budapest for two weeks. We hadn’t seen them in almost two years!
Off to a Stressful Start
We all knew that traveling during the pandemic would be more stressful than usual. During the weeks leading up to the trip, we spent many hours reviewing plans. Despite our diligence, the journey from Orlando to Budapest was taxing.
The girls’ flight left Orlando Wednesday afternoon on December 1st. Both had had PCR tests, but by Wednesday morning, only Steph had her results. Rather than stress until the last minute, Laura had a rapid PCR test done. Of course, it came at a cost; $175.
Armed with the correct paperwork, Steph and Laura flew from Orlando to Atlanta and then to Paris. We knew the connection in Paris would be tight. What we didn’t expect was a double whammy. The plane arrived in Paris on time but had issues with disembarkation. Even so, there was hope. However, the flight from Paris to Budapest was moved up by twenty minutes at the last moment. The next flight was in the mid-afternoon, but it was full. They had to wait twelve hours for a flight to Budapest.
They checked into a lounge and were able to relax a bit. Then we started worrying about Steph’s PCR test. It would be more than 72 hours old when she arrived in Budapest. Laura was okay since she had done the rapid PCR test Wednesday morning.
Since a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival was one of the conditions for entering Budapest, she set out to get a rapid PCR test in the Charles De Gaulle airport. There were no rapid PCR tests to be found, so she had an antigen test done. At this point, we were not sure that an antigen test would be acceptable, but it was the best we had.
It was a miserable day for all of us. I am not an anxious person, but I spent the day with my stomach in knots worrying about whether Steph would be allowed to board the plane with the antigen test, and if so, would it be enough to allow her to enter Hungary?
Instead of greeting them at the airport around noon on December 2nd, we welcomed them just before midnight. I didn’t relax until I saw them come through the doors in arrival.
Just to keep things interesting, the U.S. tightened the rules for entry effective December 6th. All arrivals, regardless of vaccine status, will need a negative test within 24 hours. The good news is that it does not need to be a PCR test; an antigen test will do.
A Brief Rant
I understand that the pandemic has made everything harder, and of course, the airline industry has been greatly impacted. However, our experiences with Delta and their partner, Air France, left a bad taste in our mouths.
Delta scheduled the flights, including one with a layover of less than two hours in Paris. Their representative assured me that the layover time was more than adequate. And that may have been so if the arriving plane did not disembark late and the departing plane did not leave twenty minutes early.
According to Steph and Laura, the Air France gate attendant was unhelpful and uncaring. I imagine he is tired of the stress and constant rule changes caused by the pandemic, but his job is to help passengers.
Cold Weather and Warm Hugs
The daytime temperatures were in the low to mid-thirties with a bite in the air. We did as much sightseeing as we could handle in the cold and made up for it with a lot of family meals.
Steph and Laura stocking up on winter wear
Laura was hoping to see snow, but except for a light dusting which melted quickly, it was not to be.
Early morning snowfall
We watched our favorite holiday movie, Christmas Vacation. How does it manage to get funnier each time we watch it? We also enjoyed The Last Holiday with Queen Latifah. This is not a Christmas movie per se, but it does take place at Christmas time. Much of the action occurs at the Grandhotel Pupp, a functioning luxury hotel in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. The hotel’s over-the-top luxury isn’t as costly as you might think.
Even though we didn’t get to all the activities we had planned, we were able to share some of our favorite places with our girls.
We made several visits to two of the Christmas markets in the city, the one in Vörösmarty Square and the one in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Both were extremely crowded, especially around the food vendors. There were a lot of beautiful items for sale, but the prices seemed high.
A colorful booth at the market
The markets, as well as the baths, required proof of Covid vaccination. We had heard conflicting information on the acceptance of the CDC cards, so we were pleased that the CDC cards were accepted everywhere.
As our regular readers know, Steve and I love the baths and have visited them often, but this was our first time in cold weather. We went to the epic Szechenyi Baths. We all decided that we prefer the outdoor pools to the indoor ones. Of course, that meant hurrying between pools in 35 degrees F (2 degrees C) weather.
Steve and Steph in hot water
Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, and the Labyrinth
No trip to Budapest is complete without seeing the fanciful Fisherman’s Bastion. We bundled up against the cold to see it and Buda Castle. In between, we toured the Labyrinth, one of many tunnels beneath the city.
Lots of Good Food
Steve and I couldn’t wait to share some of our favorite restaurants with Steph and Laura. We went to Kiskakukk and Hungarian Hell’s Kitchen (also known as Nagy Fa-Tál Konyhája) for lunch and Spinoza for dinner. All feature traditional Hungarian fare.
We also got ourselves up early to enjoy breakfast a Circusz. This place is so popular if you are not there early, you will most likely be waiting in line. As always, the food was fantastic.
The dining highlight was the Advent brunch at Lang Bistro and Grill in the Hilton Hotel. The selection was huge, and each item was delectable. We had a view of the Danube River and the Hungarian Parliament.
Aquaworld (Of Course)
We had to share one of our favorite Hungarian places with Steph and Laura. We spent two nights at Aquaworld. I think they loved it as much as we do.
Museum of Sweets and Selfies
Perhaps the most fun we had was at the two Museum of Sweets and Selfies locations.
Just a few of our photos from the two Museum of Sweets and Selfies locations
Ervin Szabó Library
We split up one day. Steph and I went to the National Gallery (primarily Hungarian art) and the Cave Church. Steve and Laura climbed to the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica and went to the Ervin Szabó Library.
At the library, Steve and Laura expected to see elegant neo-baroque rooms filled with students. Instead, they found empty but still elegant rooms. The library is being used to film part of an Emma Stone movie, Poor Things. Even though it was closed, the guard let Steve and Laura look around.
A room in the library before the furniture was removed for filming
Budapest is a popular place for filming. It often stands in for other cities. When Steve and I watched the series Homeland, we were delighted to recognize several Budapest locations, including the New York Palace Hotel. In that case, the city was a stand-in for Moscow.
Despite the travel stresses and cold weather, we all agreed that the most important thing was spending time together. As always, we enjoyed chatting and laughing with each other.
A Christmas Surprise
Our landlord, Bé, and his partner Marcel set up Christmas decorations for us and brought wine and jam. We already knew Bé was a fantastic landlord, but this was above and beyond.
Riding Out the Winter
After a busy fall, it looks like Steve and I will be lying low (again) for the next few months. Perhaps we will take a few short spa vacations, but mostly we will be planning and praying for travel to open up in the spring.
We are still hoping to do the 10-day U.K. hike we had booked two years ago, and visit some countries close to Hungary like Austria and Slovenia.
Meanwhile, I am keeping busy working on this blog, studying Italian on Duolingo, and starting a Coursera course called Hacking Exercise for Health. I’m also looking forward to getting back to a gym. Wait, did I just write that? Who am I? Seriously, I have been pretty good about doing simple workouts at home, but I miss the treadmill and rowing machine.
Until Next Time
Steve and I wish you all a healthy, prosperous, and joy-filled 2022. Drop us a line or two in the comments section and tell us about your plans for 2022.
Hi there! I hope this finds you well as we enter the last month of 2021.
If you are a regular reader, you know that Steve and I enjoyed a summer full of activity, including visiting many baths and taking several side trips from our current home base in Budapest. Then November arrived.
Not only did November bring colder weather, but it also brought an uptick in Covid cases and the Omicron variant. So instead of exploring, we spent most of the month planning for our daughters’ December visit, celebrating Thanksgiving, and dealing with the unglamorous side of full-time travel.
But before I share those details, I want to introduce our new buddy, Hedgemeister.
Hi, I’m Hedgemeister
He is a stuffed hedgehog who will be accompanying us on future adventures. He is our third hedgehog buddy, and like the first two, he loves beer and has a sassy side.
A Scavenger Hunt and a Feast
This was our fourth Thanksgiving out of the U.S., but the first one we chose to celebrate. There are quite a few places to have Thanksgiving dinner in Budapest, but they are all in the evening. We prefer to have our dinner mid-day, so we decided to eat at home.
Not only did this mean a delectable feast, but it also meant we got to go on a scavenger hunt as we looked for turkey, cranberries, and gravy. None of these are popular in Hungary, so we had to pay top dollar, but it was worth it.
Steve ordered the turkey from a butcher at the Lehel Market. Not only did they forget to fill the order, causing him to wait a few hours, but we paid a ridiculous $3.50 per pound.
We found cranberries and gravy at Taste the World. As with all imported food, they came at a jaw-dropping cost: $5.00 per item.
A girl has to have her cranberries
At less than $2.00 per bottle, at least the wine was inexpensive
Two Vaccines Down, One to Go
We got our annual flu vaccines early in the month and our Covid booster a few weeks later.
The Hungarian government had a week-long vaccine campaign mainly providing boosters but offering first and second shots to the unvaccinated as well. It was so successful that they extended it for a second week. It was efficient, and we got to choose among five vaccines.
The last thing on our list is the tick vaccine. It protects against tick-borne encephalitis and requires three shots. There is no currently available vaccine to protect against Lyme disease.
All is Merry and Bright
After a low-key holiday season last year, it was great to see more Christmas decorations popping up around the city.
Dressed up Budapest
The Christmas markets opened mid-month, although you need proof of Covid vaccination to enter them. There are plenty of vendors selling Christmas items outside of the markets as well.
A Lot of Drugery
Every so often, a bunch of “stuff” needs attention. This month was full of those things:
We replaced our SIM card provider. We had been using Vodafone, which has been becoming less reliable by the day. And the staff at the stores is obviously frustrated. We said so long to them and switched to Telekom.
Both of us had eye exams at FirstMed, a great place for your medical needs. The exams went swimmingly. I then ordered my contact lens through Vision Express, and it took one month for them to arrive.
My iPad battery had to be replaced. That meant two whole days without it.
How I felt without my iPad
Planning continued for Stephanie and Laura’s trip. Steve and I can’t wait to see our girls. It’s been almost two years. As excited as we are, we all have felt the stress of planning an overseas trip during a pandemic. Our biggest concern is if the girls’ CDC documents will be accepted at venues restricting access to vaccinated people.
Yes, folks, this is the not-so-glamorous side of full-time travel. The daily tasks and frustrations may be less, but they still exist and are being done in a foreign country in a language you probably don’t understand.
And a Little Fun
We did manage to have some fun. I spent an afternoon at the Gellert Baths, we revisited the Hungarian National Museum (history), and we had several meals out, including all-you-can-eat chicken wings at Hoff House.
Hedgemeister’s first taste of chicken wings was a big success
Steve and Hedgemeister enjoying a new restaurant, Trattoria Cardinale
This Month’s Media
Even though travel is limited right now, you can enjoy learning about cool new places. One such place is Budapest’s Margaret Island. This tiny island in the Danube River is a delightful place to explore.
I’ve been reading The Return: A Novel by Victoria Hislop. It is the story of Spain’s civil war (1936-1939) which resulted in dictator Francisco Franco ruling the country for the next 36 years.
I did not know much about this war before reading this book, and it has inspired me to learn more. In true historical fiction fashion, it frames history in personal narratives and paints memorable pictures.
Deep divides between political ideologies fueled extreme violence. To make matters worse, the Catholic church’s supported Franco’s far-right coalition. I couldn’t help noticing the similarities between this story and the political climate in the U.S. right now.
I also recommend The Island, a novel by the same author about a leper colony on the Greek island of Crete during the first half of the 1900s and several mainland families’ connections to it.
Until Next Time
I wish each of you a wonderful December filled with joy, love, and good health.
When Steve and I arrived in Budapest, our driver suggested we visit Margaret Island. The way she described it did not make us want to head right over there. This view was reinforced the first time Steve and I visited the island.
We had been walking for close to an hour when we reached the southern entrance of the island. For several minutes we walked along a crowded sidewalk, thinking, “Is this it?” We were tired, so we turned around and went home. It turns out that you need to walk for four or five minutes before you are really in the park if you enter from the southern end.
We tried another day, and I am glad we did. Who knew one little island could hold so much?
I am excited to share many of the cool things to do on Margaret Island, starting from the southern end and working up to the northern tip.
A Brief Intro to the Island
Where is Margaret Island Located?
Margaret Island sits in the Danube River between Districts II and III on the Buda side of the city and District XIII on the Pest side. The long, narrow island covers an area of less than 1 square kilometer (less than half a square mile), but there is a lot packed into that space.
You can access the island from the Margaret Bridge on the southern end or from the Árpád Bridge on the northern end. Since most people will enter it from the south, which is closer to the city center, I will list the points of interest from south to north.
The points of interest on Margaret Island – the Margaret Bridge is on the far left
Why is it called Margaret Island?
The island owes its name to Saint Margaret. She was the daughter of King Béla IV, who ruled in the 13th century. King Béla was forced off his land in Buda by the Tatars. While in exile in Dalmatia, he promised his next child to God if he could get his kingdom back.
As luck would have it, he was able to return to Buda and rebuild his kingdom. His next child was a daughter named Margaret (Margit in Hungarian). He kept his promise and sent her to live with Dominican nuns when she was three or four years old. A few years later, King Béla had a Dominican convent built on what was then called Rabbit Island so Margaret could be closer to her parents. She moved to that convent when she was nine years old and lived there until her death at twenty-eight. Here is more information about Margaret’s interesting and tragic life.
The Main Attractions
The Centenary Monument (#18 in blue)
The Centenary Monument was erected in 1972 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the creation of Budapest by unifying the cities of Obuda, Buda, and Pest in 1873.
You can see the monument in the featured photo. This monument looks simple, but get up close and look inside. You will see reliefs of the main events in Hungarian history for those 100 years.
One small part of the inside of the Centenary Monument
Musical Fountain (#12 in red)
Just past the Centenary Monument, you will see a large fountain. There are hourly musical shows in the warm weather. Even when there is no music, this is a popular place to relax.
Here is the website for the fountain shows. It is in Hungarian, but it is easy to understand the schedule.
The Musical Fountain
Franciscan monastery ruins (#17 in blue)
As you head up the main road, you will come across the ruins of a 13th-century Franciscan church and monastery. There isn’t much left, but it is a great place for a few photos.
The front of the Franciscan monastery ruins
Palantinus Baths (#1 in light blue)
There are several baths in Budapest. What makes Palatinus different is that it is more of a swim park complete with slides. It is also less costly than the well-known Szechenyi or Gellert baths.
The clouds did not detract from the fun
Rose Garden (#9 in red)
Across the road from the Palatinus Baths is a large rose garden. It is a sight to behold when the roses are in bloom. But don’t despair; even if you visit when they aren’t in bloom, the island is full of vegetation.
Dominican Convent Ruins (#16 in blue)
Head toward the Pest side of the island and slightly left, and you will find the ruins of a 13th-century Dominican convent. Margaret spent most of her life here.
There is much more to see here than at the Franciscan monastery ruins.
Part of the convent ruins
Water Tower (#8 in red)
Just a little way ahead and toward the center of the island is the water tower. It was built over 100 years ago in the Art Nouveau style. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can climb its 152 steps to the top.
A word of warning: unless you are looking for some exercise, you should skip climbing the tower. There isn’t much to see when you reach the top. You get much better views of the city from Gellért Hill and Fishermans’ Bastion.
The water tower with an open-air theater at the bottom
Japanese Garden (#7 in red)
The island can be teeming with activity yet still be tranquil. One of the best places for tranquility is in the Margaret Island Japanese Garden. It is close to the northern end of the island.
The garden is small but holds several delights. Don’t miss the lily pond with the Little Mermaid of Budapest statue.
In the Japanese Garden
Other Things to See and Do
There is even more to see on this marvelous island. As above, the items are listed from south to north except the running track, which encircles the island.
Runners can enjoy the beauty of the island and views of the Buda and Pest shores while running around the island on a 3.2 mile (5.3 km) rubberized track. Learn more about this run here.
Mini Zoo (#10 in red)
This is truly a mini zoo, but the animals are sure to delight the little ones.
Premonstratensian Church (#14 in blue)
This Romanesque church originally dated back to the 12th century and was reconstructed in 1931.
Its bell is from the 15th century and had been lost. It was found buried in 1914 when a storm knocked down a tree. Monks most likely buried it during the Turkish invasion in the 16th century.
The Premonstratensian church
Musical Well (#6 in red)
Not to be confused with the musical fountain on the southern end. This well is a replica of the first musical well ever built.
The musical well on Margaret Island
Getting To and Around Margaret Island
It’s easy to get to the southern entrance on tram number 4 or 6. Both stop in the middle of the Margaret Bridge. You can also take bus number 26. It is the only public transportation that goes onto the island. These are just two of the many options. You can find the best route for you on Google Maps.
You can only drive onto the island from the north end, and only to go to the parking lots for the hotels, but there are several ways to explore it:
Walking – This is my favorite since the island isn’t that big.
Bikes – You can rent a bike on the island, although the hours are limited. Another option is to use MOL Bubi Budapest. This bike-share system works well. You can find bikes all over the city, and there are several places to return them on Margaret Island. You will need to register beforehand.
E-Scooters – Three companies have e-scooters available in Budapest, Lime Bike, Bird, and Tier. I have only used Lime Bike. Its app worked well, but I have sworn off e-scooters after having two accidents that were both my fault. You can read about them in “Beware the E-Scooters.”
If you want to try e-scooters, check out the various apps. There are restrictions on where you can leave them.
Fun and funky rentals – There are several vendors near the southern end of the island who rent bikes, scooters, and peddle cars. You can find them around the circle that contains the Centenary Monument.
Train – this cute train might be just the ticket if you are with young children.
The train is waiting for you at the Centenary Monument
As you can see, there is a lot of history and much to see and do on Margaret Island. There are also two hotels and a hostel on the island, as well as places to eat, playgrounds, workout stations, and public restrooms scattered about.
Until Next Time
I hope this post has inspired you to explore Margaret Island. Or perhaps it brought back memories of a past visit. Either way, Steve and I would love to hear your impressions of Margaret Island.
Can you believe it’s November already? This year is flying by. I can’t decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
Steve and I stayed busy in October, but this month all our activities were close to home. The most exciting thing that happened this month is that we began making arrangements for our daughters, Stephanie and Laura, to visit us in December. We are hoping the pandemic doesn’t mess up our plans.
The number of new cases is still low in Hungary but continues to increase. We are keeping a close eye on it. We’ve noticed more people wearing masks again.
Read on to see what we did, saw, and learned in October.
Dohány Street Synagogue
We started the month visiting a place that has been on our radar since we got to Budapest a year and a half ago. We toured the Dohány Street Synagogue. It had been closed to tours until recently. You can see part of the front of the synagogue in our featured photo.
This beautiful synagogue is the largest in Europe. The largest synagogue in the world is the Belz Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.
Here are a few facts about the Dohány Street Synagogue:
It was built in the Morrish Revival style.
It seats 3,000 people.
A smaller temple called Heroes Temple is used for winter services to avoid heating the large synagogue.
This is the only synagogue in the world with a cemetery on its grounds. There are over 2,000 Jews buried here. They are people who died in the ghetto during WWII and remained unburied when the ghetto was liberated.
There is a Hungarian Jewish Museum connected to the synagogue.
The synagogue is on Dohány Street, which translates to the unromantic Tobacco Street.
According to our tour guide, the synagogue is more ornate than most and has similarities to Catholic churches. This was done intentionally because the Jews who settled in Budapest wanted to assimilate. They wanted to show that they weren’t that different.
Inside the synagogue
There is a large statue of a weeping willow on the grounds. It is called the Emanuel Tree. The tree was installed in 1991 and paid for by the American actor Tony Curtis in memory of his Hungarian-born father, Emanuel Schwartz.
The tree is a memorial to Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust. Many of their names are engraved on the leaves.
The Emanuel Tree and engraved leaves
The synagogue grounds also contain several memorials to both Jews and non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
Budapest is teeming with beautiful buildings, but one of the most exquisite is difficult to appreciate from the street because other buildings closely surround it.
To get a good view of the Royal Postal Savings Bank Building, you need to go to the Hotel President, which is right across the street. Once there, you go to the roof-top restaurant Intermezzo to enjoy the building’s beauty and have a 360-degree view of Budapest.
This building is now the Hungarian State Treasury.
The Royal Postal Savings Bank Building
A Klezmer Show
We finally got to see the Klezmer show at the Spinoza Restaurant. The restaurant had been closed throughout the pandemic and just reopened.
Klezmer music is a tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern and Central Europe. Even though we couldn’t understand the words, much of the music was instrumental, and most of it was lively. It was a great way to experience a little of the local culture.
A night of local culture
Steve got to spend several hours ogling cars, trains, and other wheeled contraptions at the Oldtimer Show held in the 10 acre Hungarian Railway History Park. I was in a Zoom meeting and missed it.
And other things with wheels
The Budapest Retro Interactive Museum
This is a new museum in the city that showcases life in Socialist Hungary. The displays are primarily from the 1970s and 1980s. There are a lot of hands-on exhibits and plenty of English translations. You can even use an old phone to hear jokes like this one:
Three men, a Brit, a Frenchman, and a Russian, are looking at a painting of Adam and Eve.
The Brit says, “look how reserved they are. They must be British.”
The Frenchman says, “Nonsense. They are beautiful. They must be French.”
The Russian finally chimes in. “They are Russian,” he says. “They have no clothes, no shelter, and only an apple to eat, yet they are told they are in paradise.”
Steve and I visited a similar museum in Varna, Bulgaria, a few years ago. The Retro Museum in Varna also showcases life under Socialism but is much larger and covers all the decades of Soviet control. Hopefully, the Budapest museum will do well and grow. Find out more on their website.
Photo of Leonid Brezhnev and Eric Honecker (East German politician)
Art Market Budapest
We also spent several hours contemplating contemporary art at an international art fair. It was held in The Whale (Bálna), a modern building with shops, restaurants, and convention space. I don’t know how Hungarians feel about this building, but I wouldn’t be surprised if not everyone appreciates its style.
The Whale on the Pest side of the Danube River
Inside The Whale
A Covid-inspired interpretation of The Girl With the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer – this one by Naomi Devil
A vibrant painting by Omar Mendoza
Another Trip to Aquaworld
I apologize if you are getting sick of hearing about this place. This was our third three-night visit to Aquaworld, thanks to their “buy two nights, get one free” deal.
Since the swim season is over, it was a different experience than our first visit in July. There were fewer people, and some of the pools and saunas were closed because of the cool weather and decreased demand. But there was more than enough to keep us happy. We loved luxuriating in the warm pools while the air was 45 degrees F.
The view from our room, lovely any time of year
We also paid a visit to a third bath in the city. Rudas Baths aren’t as well-known as Szechenyi or Gellert Baths. However, Rudas Baths have the longest history. Its octagon-shaped Turkish bath dates back to 1550! Unfortunately, photos of the original pool aren’t allowed.
The baths have more modern features, too, including a roof-top pool overlooking the Danube River.
Rooftop bathing at Rudas Baths
One of several Zsolnay tile fountains in the baths
Loving City Living
Having spent six decades as a suburbanite, I’ve discovered that I love city living. Yes, it can be noisy and crowded, but that’s a small price to pay for the vast array of attractions at our disposal. I love that we don’t need a car and can walk to the grocery store in just a few minutes.
I also love that events occur constantly. One morning we went out for breakfast. As we headed home, we ran across an art display featuring animals. Here are two of them:
It isn’t every day you see a bull made out of beer cans
Or a shiny silver bear
Another day, we watched thousands of people fill the streets in our neighborhood to celebrate the Memorial Day of the 1956 Revolution. The president gave a speech, which we couldn’t understand, but we loved watching the crowds from our apartment.
As Steve says, “These are the best seats in the house.”
It is interesting to see how clean the residents keep the city. When the crowds cleared, the was almost no garbage on the streets. Soon afterward, street cleaning machines were doing their job. This is quite a contrast to the mess left behind in Buenos Aires after a day of protests.
No litter and streets being washed after political rally
This Month’s Media
In between our activities, I managed to publish three blog posts:
I also enjoyed another Dan Brown novel. Origin is the story of a scientist who discovers the answers to the questions “where did we come from” and “where are we going?” His discovery threatens the world’s religions.
Once again, Brown made locations come to life. He did a fantastic job describing the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain, and wrote a little about several Budapest locations, including the Dohány Street Synagogue.
The book also has Winston, a helpful AI creation with a personality. But my favorite part of the book was how the main character, Edmond Kirsch, logically examines religious beliefs. It discusses how throughout history, humans have invented gods to fill in the gaps in their understanding of the world.
The story also includes the Palmarian Catholic Church, a Catholic church that does not recognize any popes after Paul VI as Catholic and has its own “popes.” Some describe it as a cult.
Is this great literature? No. It is a thriller that teaches you and makes you think if you let it.
Until Next Time
Steve and I hope you had a great October. Drop us a comment to let us know what you’ve been up to or suggest some good TV viewing; we are desperate.
Are you planning a ski vacation this winter? Are you trying to get the most for your money? If so, you may be considering the Bulgarian ski resort of Bansko.
Steve and I chose Bansko for our January 2020 ski trip because of the low cost of accommodations and skiing and the fact that we wouldn’t need a car.
In this post, I will tell you what we loved about skiing in Bansko and what we didn’t. Even though our experience was negative, I must stress that we love visiting Bulgaria. In addition to Bansko, we’ve enjoyed visiting Sofia, Plovdiv, and the Black Sea Coast and have met wonderful people there.
Understanding the Bansko Resort
Ski-in, ski-out is not an option since there are no accommodations near the lifts. So before you can hit the slopes, you need to get up the mountain to the lifts. There are four ways to do this: by gondola, shuttle bus, driving yourself, or taxi. Most people take the 3.9-mile (6.3 km) gondola ride.
You have the option of getting off the Gondola in two places, but most people go to the second stop.
When you are ready to call it a day, you can return to town by gondola or vehicle, or you can ski back on Ski Road #1.
Bansko has 30 miles (48 km) of slopes and 14 lifts, including two 6-seat chairlifts. There are several places to eat throughout the resort.
Morning on the slopes
Learn more about skiing in Bansko on their website here or access the ski map.
All money is in U.S. Dollars.
What Is Good About Skiing In Bansko
You can walk practically anywhere
This charming town is compact, but if you need a vehicle, taxis are readily available.
You can’t beat the cost
Our daily lift ticket was $38. Ski rental, including a helmet, was $30 per day. We rented from Traventuria. The current cost for a lift pass, skis, poles, and boots for an adult is $123 for two days (their shortest package).
We each had an hour-long private lesson at about $70 each.
Lodging is also a bargain. We booked an Airbnb for three weeks for less than $900.
As you can see in the photo above, the gondolas are in great shape. The lifts were also in great shape, and the runs were well-groomed.
What Wasn’t Good About Skiing In Bansko
Unfortunately, there was a lot we didn’t know about skiing in Bansko. If we had known these things, we would have looked for another place to ski.
As a disclaimer, all my previous skiing had been on the East Coast of the U.S. on small mountains. It may be that what I found in Bansko is common in Europe. Either way, these are the things that made the experience less than ideal:
Getting on the gondola is a hassle
If you choose to take the gondola up the mountain, you will have a few challenges. You have to go up a long set of stairs to get to the loading area. Not easy to do in ski boots.
The line is orderly until you get to the top of the stairs and try to get into a gondola car. At this point, it becomes a contact sport.
Getting on the lifts is also a hassle
The rudeness continues at the entrances to the lifts. There are no lines, only surging crowds. To make matters worse, the entrances to the lifts are raised, so everyone is trying to move up and into a slot while being pushed and crowded.
As I was trying to get on one lift, I found that I couldn’t move one of my skis. It was so crowded that someone behind me had his ski over mine.
Safety isn’t a priority
I did not see any information on ski conditions. The only way to see the conditions is to go up the mountain. This led to a serious accident for Steve. We started down the Ski Road on what should have been an easy run. Suddenly I was speeding down an ice-covered slope. It took all my skiing skills to stay upright until I reached the bottom.
Steve was not so lucky. He fell on that ice and fractured his pelvis. You can read about his horrific hospital stay in our post “Hospitalized in Bulgaria.”
Several people stopped to help Steve and put up skis to warn other skiers. However, an instructor was skiing backward and ran into Steve. And he didn’t even apologize.
As Steve’s accident showed, there is no warning of dangerous conditions, and runs were kept open even when they had a lot of ice.
The slopes are overcrowded
I went skiing another day, and between the ice and the large number of inexperienced skiers, I felt unsafe and cut it short. Bansko is very popular with new skiers from Europe and the U.K. partly because of the low cost. That means the slopes get very crowded.
Getting a lift pass is inefficient
The last thing that was frustrating was how lift passes were handled. The company I rented from only sold passes for two or more consecutive days. SInce I was only planning to ski one day, I was told to buy one at the bottom of the gondola station.
The gondola starts running at 8:30 a.m. The ticket booth also opens at 8:30, so by the time the ticket booth opens, the line can get very long.
But that isn’t inefficient enough. A sign said they accept VISA, so I chose to pay that way. The clerk rang up my purchase, and I paid. Then she asked if I had cash for the deposit on the lift card. I did, but it was tucked away in my money belt under several layers of clothes. During this, the line to get on the gondola was growing longer. Why they don’t charge it all at once is beyond me.
My intention isn’t to hate on Bansko skiing but to give you information that can help you decide if this is a good choice for you.
Bansko is a charming town worth visiting any time of year, whether or not you choose to ski there.
A few scenes from Bansko
Steve has skied his last slope. I, however, intend to try again this winter. I will be considering the availability and quality of medical care near the resort.
We would love to hear about your experiences skiing Bansko and welcome any suggestions about ski resorts that don’t require you to have a car.
Stay safe and healthy, Linda
Our featured photo shows the ski mountain in Bansko.
One and a half years into this pandemic, and it’s still wreaking havoc with lives. Like everyone else, Steve and I can’t wait for our lives to return to normal. Still, we respect how dangerous Covid is and how it is overwhelming healthcare systems, so we will continue to be cautious as long as necessary.
Early in the month, Steve and I talked about how the number of Covid cases was low in Hungary, and maybe it was time to venture into nearby countries. We considered a trip to Vienna, Austria but discovered that their Covid numbers were higher than Hungary’s. So we now have a new travel rule: don’t go to places with higher rates of active Covid cases than the place you are. So we will limit our travel to Hungarian towns for now.
At the start of September, there were less than 200 new cases per day. By month-end, that number has tripled.
Gellert Spa and Bath
Our love affair with thermal baths continues.
Hotel Gellért has graced the bank of the Danube River in Budapest with its Art Nouveau elegance for over 100 years. It is on the Buda side of the city at the foot of the Liberty Bridge.
The hotel is connected to the Gellért Spa, a well-known Budapest attraction. You can visit the spa even if you aren’t a guest at the hotel. I had read some reviews that said that the baths need renovation. Despite those reviews, I wanted to visit it to see the décor, so Steve and I checked it out. I was not disappointed.
Yes, things could have been better. The fountains were empty, and the wave machine was not working. Mineral deposits hung from the statues in the thermal pools, and a few statues were missing. Even so, you can’t deny its glamour.
According to this article by CGTN, the spa was slated for renovation, but the loss of revenues because of the pandemic has put that in question.
The main outside attraction is the wave pool, which is currently being used as a swimming pool. It is surrounded by decorative tiles, statues, and plants and overlooked by a large terrace. Chaise lounges fill the multi-level patio. There is also a rather boring-looking thermal bath too, as well as a Finnish sauna and tub.
The GellértSpa wave pool and patio
The grandeur continues inside with a swimming pool and several thermal baths. A steam room, massages, beauty treatments, and medical spa services are available.
I loved the balcony with lounge chairs and a retractable roof overlooking the indoor pool. For someone who loves to read by a pool and does not want too much sun, this was perfect.
The indoor pool and balconies
Return to Aquaworld
Steve and I enjoyed our July visit to Aquaworld Resort Budapest so much we decided to make another three-night visit. Since school has resumed in Hungary, it was less crowded than last time.
Even though there were fewer people, there were a lot of families with small children. The complex is large enough that you can always find a quiet place, but the overtired kids made for some noisy meal times. Since it is a resort with a waterpark, that is to be expected.
We hung out in the pools and thermal baths until we were waterlogged, drying off only to eat and sleep. Breakfast and dinner were included, and the food was fabulous.
The indoor lap pool and hanging bridge at Aquaworld at closing time
On our first night, our waiter had a hard time understanding what we wanted to drink, partly because of the language and partly because he was hard of hearing. We finally got it sorted out. Thankfully we only had to place a drink order.
The next night, we chose a table in a different section. Low and behold, here comes the same waiter. This night, I felt like wine, so I asked for a glass of merlot. Our waiter said, “merlot isn’t good,” and suggested pinot noir. I agreed to give it a try.
The pinot noir wasn’t bad, but I preferred merlot, so when I was ready for a second glass, I asked for merlot.
The waiter said, “Pinot noir?”
I said, “No, merlot.”
He said, “Pinot noir,” and nodded his head.
I said, “No, merlot,” a little more forcefully.
He looked at me a said, “Merlot?”
I nodded my head in agreement. Phew, I was glad that was over.
When he returned with my wine, he put it down and proudly stated, “Pinot noir.”
I shook my head and said, “No, merlot.”
He went off to replace it.
I’ve never worked so hard to get what I wanted in a restaurant.
A Visit to Northeast Hungary
Steve and I talked about visiting some Hungarian towns east of Budapest for a while but never seemed to pull it all together. We finally got down to it and planned a trip to the towns of Eger and Lillafüred.
Our first stop was three nights in Eger. We explored a 13th-century castle, toured the Archbishop’s Palace and Cellars (caves that had been a wine cellar), and visited a Beatles museum.
We also headed over to nearby Egerszalók to see the Sodomb, a large limestone hill, and spend time in yet another bath.
A luxury hotel, the Beatles, a castle view, and a spa day
For more than a year, I have been intrigued by the Hotel Palota in Lillafüred.
Hotel Palota at night
The hotel is in a valley in the Bükk Mountains. There are several caves and many hiking trails to explore there.
Hotel Palota was built in 1930. From then until World War II, it was enjoyed by members of high society. During the war, it was occupied by German soldiers and also served as a hospital for Russian soldiers.
After the war, the hotel was again used as intended. For much of this time, it was managed by the National Council of Trade Unions. You needed a special voucher to stay at the hotel.
In 1993, the hotel was acquired by the Hunguest chain, which refurbished and modernized it. It is on the Register of Hungaricums as a valuable national treasure.
Views of the hotel
We toured two limestone caves near Hotel Palota. The first was Anna Cave. This cave has several plant fossils. The tour lasted about 40 minutes and was in Hungarian. Our guide got a lot of laughs while Steve and I stood there looking lost.
The second cave was the Szent István Cave. This tour was a little shorter and also in Hungarian. This guide did not get any laughs. Despite not understanding what was being said, Steve and I got some cool photos.
If you can only see one cave, I recommend Szent István. It has more interesting formations, which you can see in these photos:
Formations in Szent István cave
Miskolctapolca Cave Bath
The town of Miskolctapolca is one and a half hours from Lillafüred. Its claim to fame is the cave baths. In the Miskolctapolca Cave Bath, you can swim through caves in 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) spring water.
Into the cave
Inside the cave bath
Steve and I did not want to miss this, but we were a little disappointed. Because sound carries in the caves, and all the kids had to take advantage of that, it was noisy. Another issue was that the more secluded pools seemed to attract a lot of couples who thought because the lights were low, they had privacy. I’m not talking about teenagers who couldn’t keep their hands off each other. There were several middle-aged couples who were getting a little friendlier than is appropriate in public.
Despite this, I am glad we got to experience the cave bath.
This Month’s Media
Inferno is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read. Not because of the plot, which is standard thriller, but because author Dan Brown does three things very well: 1. he brings places to life. A lot of this story takes place in Florence, Italy. His descriptions of that city’s sights make me anxious to see them. 2. he incorporates art, in this case, Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. 3. he ties in religious and social issues that make you think.
In Inferno, the primary social issue is overpopulation. How many people can the Earth support, and what happens when we grossly exceed that number? The mad scientist’s solution was one I would never have thought of.
It would be great if Dan Brown got all his facts straight, but despite these hiccups, I still enjoy everything his novels offer.
A few months ago Steve and I watched Unorthodox on Netflix and enjoyed it a lot. This month, I decided to check out the book on which it was based. In her book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots author Deborah Feldman delves deep into the life of the Satmar Jews. She isn’t afraid to talk about the darker side of this secluded sect.
I enjoyed the book but was surprised when it ended without any details about how she left the Hasidic life or what she has done since. It was one of the few times I thought the show was better than the book.
Until Next Time
Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to and if travel has made its way back into your life.
Featured photo – detail of a window in Hotel Palota
If you are looking for a fun getaway in Hungary, consider Eger. It is the largest town in the Eger wine region and only 84 miles (135 km) from Budapest. It can easily be reached by car or train.
A visit to Eger will reward you with beautiful views, Baroque architecture, and a valley dedicated to wine. You can also visit one of the five Beatles museums in the world!
Steve and I couldn’t wait to visit Eger. In addition to seeing new Hungarian sights, we were looking forward to spending a few nights in the Oval Suite at the Erla Villa hotel.
Our bathroom – can’t you feel the luxury?
In between oohing and aahing over the scrumptious décor and grounds of the hotel, we managed to see several Eger attractions. We hopped over to nearby Egerszalók to see the salt hill and the Saliris Resort.
Here is our take on the Eger and Egerszalók sights.
What We Did In Eger
Eger Castle is one of the most popular attractions in Eger. The castle dates back to the 13th century and is best known for the Siege of Eger (1552), during which the Hungarian defenders repelled a Turkish army that outnumbered them by more than 15 to 1.
Some of the castle walls with the city of Eger below
While there, you can visit several indoor exhibits, including one about the castle’s history. It covers several rooms, is well done, and includes English translations. When we visited, there was a temporary weapons exhibit that I enjoyed because there were several hands-on artifacts, and the explanations (in Hungarian and English) were concise and informative.
From left to right: 16th-century Hungarian field officer uniform, 16-17th-century fist shield made of tortoise shell, prayer book (no date), 19th-century Persian helmet
Ergi Road Beatles Museum
Who would expect to find a Beatles Museum in a small city in Hungary? The Egri Road Beatles Museum has a collection of over 2,500 items.
Just a few of the many items in the museum – who knew there were Beatles cuff links?
One of the coolest things was being led into a cave to see a short film about the Beatles’ early lives.
The totally cool cave with photos of musicians who inspired the Beatles
There is also a month-by-month history of the group from their discovery through their breakup. It is in Hungarian and English.
This museum is sure to bring back many memories for baby boomers, but any music fan is sure to get something out of it. You could say we loved it, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Archbishop’s Palace and Cellars
The palace has been the home of the Archbishop of Eger (Roman Catholic) since 1740. There is a museum of religious artifacts on two floors of the palace.
A sitting room display in the museum
Detail of the painting Memento mori by Lukács Huetter circa 1750
The cellars are caves used to store wine until the mid-1900s, when the fear of collapse led to many of them being lined with cement. That meant the temperature and humidity were no longer suitable for storing wine.
Eger is one of Hungary’s twenty-two wine regions. Every year there is a contest in which the Archbishop chooses the wine served during communion for the coming year.
You can tour the caves with a guide. David was our guide, and he did a great job. The tour includes a display of the wines chosen as the best of the year and a taste of the Archbishop’s favorite. Of course, I took a bottle home.
The hill was created by a buildup of limestone deposits from the 150 degrees F (65 degrees C) spring water. You can enjoy the mineral-rich waters at The Saliris Resort, either as an overnight guest or during a daytime visit.
The limestone terraces overlooking the Saliris Resort (or is it the other way around?)
The Saliris Spa has 17 pools. You can see the outdoor ones in the photo above. The inside pools are fun to explore since they are terraced and have several cave-like areas. The spa also has saunas and a steam room. There is a cute section for kids, too.
Just for fun – the sign for the Helli Borozo Winery and Guest House in Egerszalók
More Things to See in Eger
Since we only spent two full days in Eger, there are several things we did not see, so I think we need to go back. Here are some of the other Eger attractions:
This is the only surviving minaret of the ten built in Eger by the Ottomans during the 17th century. It is also the northernmost minaret in Europe.
You can climb the narrow spiral staircase to get a birds-eye view of Eger. We did not since I was dealing with a sore hip. If you don’t make it up the minaret, don’t despair. You can get great views of the city from Eger castle.
The minaret is 131 feet tall (40 meters) and has 98 steps.
The minaret, as seen from Eger Castle
The Valley of the Beautiful Women
This valley is home to dozens of wine cellars side by side. You can visit many of them to sample the local wine and have a traditional Hungarian meal. We did not make it there on this trip. Again, another reason to go back.
Kopcsik Marcipánia Bell Foundry House (Marzipan Museum)
This small museum showcases the creations of master confectioner Lajos Kopcsik. From the photos, it looks similar to the one we visited in Szentendre, Hungary. However, this one has an entire Baroque room made of marzipan!
Our visit to the Szamos Marcipán Múzeum in Szentendre showed us that you can make anything out of marzipan, even Michael Jackson
Since we didn’t visit the Eger museum, we don’t have any photos, but you can get an idea of what you can see there on their website.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle
If you love beautiful buildings as much as Steve and I do, you would want to swing by the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle in Eger. The basilica is currently undergoing renovation, but according to this article, you can still visit it. The work is expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.
Eger Thermal Bath
This being Hungary, no city would be complete without at least one thermal bath. In Eger, you have the Eger Thermal Bath.
The bath has 13 pools, 9 of which are open year-round.
As in all the Hungarian cities we’ve visited, there is no shortage of architecture waiting to be admired.
The dismal day did not detract from this building’s beauty (on Dobó István Square)
The Church of Anthony of Padua (Minorite Church) – a Franciscan church also on Dobó István Square
Where We Stayed – The Erla Villa Hotel
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Steve and I were excited to spend several nights in the most luxurious hotel room we’ve ever had. Up until now, we’ve always booked a basic room, unwilling to cough up more money for a fancy room when the chips were down. But I fell in love with the Oval Suite when I saw it on the Erla Villa website. Even better, three nights with half board (breakfast and dinner) was only a little over $600.
The room turned out to be as stunning as the photos, and the food was fantastic.
There were a few things that could have been better. For example, breakfast wasn’t served until 8 o’clock, and there wasn’t any place to get coffee before then. That is a mild form of torture for us early risers. When I finally got my coffee, it was superb.
Also, the shower curtain didn’t go all the way across the opening, so no matter how careful you were, the floor in front of the shower got flooded.
Despite a few little things that could be improved, I would recommend this hotel, not only for the ambiance but also for the food (and coffee).
Until Next Time
Have you been to Eger or Egerszalók? What did you think? What was your favorite sight?
Featured photo by Adonis Villanueva on Pixabay.com
Can you believe August is over? I don’t know about you, but for me, time is flying. Steve and I have done more this month than in any of the previous sixteen months we’ve been in Hungary.
We spent many hours luxuriating in the Budapest baths. We also revisited the zoo and explored three nearby towns. These are the highlights.
All money is in U.S. Dollars unless otherwise stated.
New Covid cases in Hungary have remained low all summer. Right now, there are less than 200 new cases per day. But that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. The Hungarian government is prepared to take steps to protect people in the country if the Delta variant takes off here. Steve and I try to be positive, but we expect a fourth wave.
Splish Splash We’ve Been Lovin’ the Baths
The Palatinus Strand is like your neighborhood pool if your neighborhood pool had ten outdoor pools of varying temperatures, an indoor thermal bath, water slides, and a wave pool.
There are also two saunas and a steam room. You can get a massage for an additional fee. As of this writing, a 45-minute massage costs $22.
Palatinus Strand is popular with families, partly because it is more affordable than the well-known Szechenyi and Gellert Baths. It costs about $10 to visit Palatinus, compared to $18 to visit the Szechenyi or Gellert Baths.
A visit to the Szechenyi Baths doesn’t come cheap, but it is worth it. These baths are one of the largest spa complexes in Europe. You can see the century-old Neo-Baroque building in the featured photo above.
You can bask in the elegant setting while enjoying three outdoor or fifteen indoor pools. Water temperature ranges from 65 to 104 degrees F (18 to 40 degrees C). There are also three saunas and three steam rooms. Massages are available for an additional fee. As of this writing, a 45-minute massage costs $32.
Two of the indoor pools at the Szechenyi Baths
When you visit the baths there is none of that heavy chlorine smell I associate with swimming pools, especially indoor ones. I wondered why. I found the answer here.
For thermal pools the water comes from natural hot springs. It is filtered and the water is replaced every day. No chemicals are added to the thermal pools.
The other pools are treated with a minimum amount of chlorine and salt.
Three Side Trips
We’ve been taking advantage of the low number of Covid cases to see parts of Hungary outside of Budapest. In August, we visited three Western Hungarian towns. The first was the spa town of Hévíz, located 120 miles (193 km) southwest of Budapest.
People go to Hévíz to bathe in thermal Lake Heviz. Even though it is the largest thermal lake in the world suitable for swimming, it is not very big. The lake covers about 11 acres (4.4 hectares).
You can swim in the lake, but most people float on pool noodles
The lake is fed by mineral-rich water that has curative properties. It is recommended for people suffering from rheumatic diseases and locomotor disorders. The lake is around 95 degrees F (35 C) in the summer and 75 degrees F (24 C) in the winter. The water in the lake is replaced every 72 hours.
We stayed at Ensana Thermal Hévíz for two nights, where we enjoyed the three indoor and two outdoor pools. The water temperatures ranging from 82 to 100 degrees F (28 to 38 degrees C).
Veszprém is a small city 75 miles (120 km) southwest of Budapest. It is easy to reach by train or bus.
The main reason we visited Veszprém was to see the Herend Porcelain Museum in the nearby town of Herend. The visit included a factory tour, and after seeing the work that goes into their products, I understand why they are so costly. Each piece is hand-painted.
This piece costs more than $35,000.
There were plenty of English translations and QR codes. Tours are available in English. Ours was very well done.
Ödön, The Street Musician, Ernő, The Guard, and Leonora, The Girl and The Lion
The creator of these sculptures is Mikhail Kolodko. He has several in Ukraine and Hungary including about twenty in Budapest. You can see some of them in ”The Funky Side of Budapest.”
A few random photos of Veszprém
Next, we headed to Székesfehérvár, which is 40 miles (65 km) southwest of Budapest. Again we had a specific sight in mind. We wanted to visit Bory Castle. We loved it.
Bory Castle was the home of architect and sculptor Jenő Bory and his family. The one-acre lot only contained a wine vault and press house when Bory purchased it in 1912. From 1923 to 1959, he added to the castle, designing as he built. He did most of the work himself.
The castle is filled with paintings and sculptures, many created by Bory and some by his wife.
You can easily spend a few hours there discovering delightful touches and enjoying different perspectives. You can climb towers and visit areas with romantic names like the Elephant Garden and the Hundred Pillared Courtyard. Every time I see a place like this, I imagine what it would be like to grow up there.
Scenes from Bory Castle
We also spent some time in the Árpád Bath while in Székesfehérvár.
One of the lounging areas in the Árpád Baths
We didn’t enjoy this as much as the Budapest baths because all the pools except the cold plunge pool were the same temperature. And none were really hot.
The bath has several saunas and a steam bath. There is also a tepidarium, which is a room in which you sit or lay on warm ceramic tiles.
After the baths we headed to the Hetedhét Toy Museum. It is full of toys from the 18th and 19th centuries, with an emphasis on dolls and dollhouses.
Drawers under the displays pull out to reveal more dolly delights
The museum’s website doesn’t translate into English, but they provide translations on all the exhibits.
As you can imagine, Steve didn’t love this, but he was patient while I explored. I’m not a doll-lover, but I figured as long as I was there, I might as well enjoy it. Besides, it was cold and rainy outside.
A Cool Day At The Zoo
It has been a hot summer, but once in a while, we get a cool day. We took advantage of one early in the month to make our third visit to the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden. It is located in the city and is easy to get to. This zoo is not large at only 44 acres (18 hectares), but there is a lot to see. There are over 10,000 animals from over 1,000 species.
We enjoyed watching this cute prairie dog.
Each time we go to the zoo, we discover something new. On this visit, it was the bat cave.
I am also working on improving my site’s visibility. It isn’t easy to get traction for a blog on a saturated topic like travel. Add the fact the travel has been restricted because of the pandemic, and you can understand the challenge.
I am reading William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. My first takeaway was simplify, simplify, simplify. Just like being a Toastmaster has made me critical of the speech patterns of public speakers, this book threatens to turn me off to many novels and blogs. I’ve already stopped reading some after a few pages because they had too much fluff.
One book I enjoyed was The Island by Victoria Hislop. It is a historical novel set on the Greek island of Crete. The story is about a young woman who travels to a small Cretan town to learn about her mother’s past. She learns about a leper colony on a small island off Crete called Spinalonga and her family’s connection to it.
Spinalonga served as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. People with leprosy, including children, were sent to the island. They could not have in-person contact with their families. The people who were banished to the island developed a society with shops, entertainment, a school, and a government.
I first heard about Spinalonga and The Island in this post from My Path In The World.
Until Next Time
Wow, I get tired just reading about everything we did in August, and I didn’t even include our hikes. I hope you enjoyed August too. Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to.
It’s been a long haul for all of us, and it isn’t over yet, but at least life has begun to return to normal. After almost eight months of lockdowns and slowdowns, we are living life again. I hope you are also returning to your pre-pandemic life. Here is what we’ve been doing this month.
We Keep Getting More Legal
Steve and I got vaccinated in June, and began July waiting for our immunity cards to arrive. We weren’t surprised when the immunity card restrictions were lifted before we received our cards.
Nonetheless, we now have them in case we need them in the future, and having them allowed us to get our EU Digital COVID Certificate. This certificate was the one government-related item that we got on the spot. No daily disappointment at the mailbox.
What We’ve Been Doing
The heatwaves of June followed us into July with many daily highs in the 90s F (30s C). The average high in July is 82 degrees F (28 C). We found two ways to beat the heat: museums and water parks.
Steve and I hit the local museums hard this month with visits to three history museums: the Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum), the Budapest History Museum (Budapesti Történeti Múzeum), and the Military History Museum (Hadtorteneti Muzeum).
The Hungarian National Museum follows the country’s history from prehistoric times to the present. We were impressed with the number of artifacts. The museum has several million pieces in its collection.
Be sure to take time to appreciate the buidling’s beauty, too.
The stairway in the Hungarian National Museum
The Budapest History Museum focuses on the history of Hungary’s capital city. The museum is much smaller that the Hungarian National Museum, but if you have time it is worth checking out. I particularly liked that there are hands-on activities for children placed throughout the 2nd floor exhibits.
The Budapest History Museum is also called the Castle Museum because it is in Buda Castle.
Soviet era street signs in the Budapest History Museum
We also paid a second visit to the Military History Museum. When we visited it last year I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. This is a comprehensive look at Hungary’s military and wartime history.
One of the many rooms in the Military History Museum
All three museums do a great job of providing English translations.
As we spend time in museums, I think about how I appreciate history much more as an adult than I did growing up. Being able to experience the places where events happened makes it even more meaningful.
We Finally Toured Parliament
The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most well-known in Budapest, but until now we have only been able to enjoy the outside. Tours finally resumed, and we jumped at the opportunity. The tour lasts less than an hour, but you will see plenty in that time. After the tour, there are several exhibits to explore on your own. You can check out the parliament tour information here.
The Grand Stairway in the Hungarian Parliament Building
Thermal Water Fun
Hungary may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of water-based activities. Hungary has 1,300 thermal springs and hundreds of spas that take advantage of this natural phenomenon. You can learn more in the National Geographic article Hungary:the land of thermal spas.
We spent three nights at Aquaworld Resort Budapest on the outskirts of the city and loved it. You can read about it here.
A few of the bathing options at Aquaworld
We also spent a hot afternoon at Palatinus Strand, a thermal bath and swimming complex on nearby Margaret Island.
Two of the many pools at Palatinus Strand on a cloudy day
Now that we’ve discovered how much we enjoy the thermal baths, which can be used year-round, we plan to visit several more in Budapest and in other cities in Hungary.
4th of July Brunch at The Four Seasons
We continue to eat our way around Budapest. We paid our first visit to Kollazs Brasserie & Bar in the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. For two and a half hours, we enjoyed a five-course brunch. Because of the pandemic, food was brought to the table. There was so much! By the time we got to dessert, we asked for only one serving of the five plates, not two.
A band kept the diners entertained. In addition to playing everything just a little too fast, the threw in a few Christmas songs, including Jingle Bells.
Just part of the first course of our brunch
Despite its name, Gresham Palace never housed royalty. This 100-year-old art nouveau building originally contained apartments and offices for the Gresham Life Assurance Company of Great Britain.
The front of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest
Art nouveau beauty in the Four Seasons Hotel
Room prices start at around $500 per night, so we won’t be staying there, but we can still enjoy the surroundings at brunch.
Sunday Morning Bike Rides
One of the things I love most when traveling is getting out early before too many people are out. You can’t beat that feeling that you have the city (almost) all to yourself. I have been using the MOL Bubi Bikes and recommend them.
You can find Bubi Bike stands all over the city. The bikes are well-maintained, and the app works well. A monthly pass costs about US$ 1.70 and allows you to ride with no additional charges for up to 30 minutes at a time. If you want to keep riding, you just start a new ride. The cost is only 7 cents per minute if you go over 30 minutes. If you don’t want to pay for the subscription, you will be charged 7 cents per minute.
The wide road along the Danube on the Pest side is closed to traffic on the weekends. I find Sunday mornings ideal for a solo ride since Steve usually prefers to sleep in.
Sunday morning solitude on Margaret Island
An Unpleasant Surprise
A few days after the devastating floods in Germany and Belgium killed more than 200 people, flooding occured in most of Hungary. Fortunately it was not as drastic.
I was lying in bed on a Monday morning listening to the storm, thinking how nice it is that we are on a high floor and don’t have to worry about flooding.
Then I got out of bed and stepped in water. The rain from the roof was too much for the drainage system in our building to handle, and some came up through our kitchen sink.
After a few hours of cleanup and a meeting with our landlord, all was back to normal.
This Month’s Blog Posts
In addition to our Aquaworld post, we published“Medical Care on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life.” This post shares information on medical travel insurance and evacuations insurance. I also discuss our personal experiences with medical care while traveling full-time. As a nomad, you can’t escape the hassles involved with staying healthy, but with a bit of planning and tenacity, your medical needs can be met.
This Month’s Media
Steve and I watched all six episodes of How to Become a Tyrant on Netflix in one sitting. Thank you for recommending it, Ramin Mahmoodi. The show is based on the book The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. The series looks at six 20th Century dictators and the methods they used to gain power. Only one of the six, Kim Jong-un, is still in power. It runs about 3 hours total, and I highly recommend it.
We have been struggling to find more good things to watch, so Steve did some research and came up with a list of Netflix series we might enjoy. The trick is to use a VPN set to a U.S. city.
One of the shows we watched was Evil. A forensic psychologist, a seminarian, and a tech wizard investigate suspected supernatural incidents under the direction of the Catholic Church. Supernatural and sci-fi shows aren’t my thing, and some of the effects are a little hokey, but I enjoyed this show. Netflix only has the first season. Season two is on Paramount.
Another show I didn’t think I would enjoy but did is Unorthodox. It is the story of a young Hasidic Jew from the Satmar sect who leaves New York City for Berlin to flee her arranged marriage and oppressive life. The premiere season is currently on Netflix. It is only four episodes. Four more episodes are expected to be released next March. Don’t miss Making Unorthodox at the end of the first season. I was impressed with the attention to detail and authenticity.
The Satmar Jews originated in a small Hungarian town in the early 1900s. After WWII, they settled in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The Satmar sect is one of the largest Hasidic dynasties in the world.
The series was inspired by the autobiographical book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. It is now at the top of my reading list.
I just finished the novel We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White. It is the story of two women who meet as college freshmen in the 1960s. It follows them and then their daughters through the next three decades as they face racism and antisemitism, and become involved in anti-war activities. The author does an excellent job of weaving historical facts into the story.
Another book I loved was This is How it Always Is: A Novel by Laurie Frankel. It is the story of the Walsh Family. They have five sons, the youngest named Claude. At the age of three, Claude announced he wanted to be a girl when he grew up. He also wanted to be a cat. As he grew, the desire to be a cat went the way of childish dreams. The desire to be a girl remained. The novel takes us on the family’s journey as they struggle to support Claude while protecting him from the reactions of society.
The best part is that while this is a novel, Frankel knows the subject well. In the author’s note, she shares with us: “It’s true that my child used to be a little boy and is now a little girl. But this isn’t her story. I can’t tell her story; I can only tell my own story and those of the people I make up.”
Do you want to relax and enjoy a little pampering? Are you looking to escape the summer heat? Or do you want to have some pool-time fun? You can do all this at Aquaworld Budapest.
Like many people, Steve and I were enduring a long heatwave when we discovered Aquaworld. This place looked like fun: pools, pools, and more pools; waterslides; an oriental spa. Breakfast and dinner included. It seemed like a great way to escape the heatwave, and it was.
Read on to see what Aquaworld is all about and if you should make it your next getaway.
What Is Aquaworld?
Aquaworld is a large hotel, waterpark, and spa complex in Budapest. You can visit for a day or stay at the hotel for a mini-vacation like Steve and I did.
Our first impression, seen from the glass-fronted elevator
* It is one of Europe’s largest indoor water theme parks. * The complex has 21 pools. * There are 11 water slides. * The hotel has 309 rooms. * There is a spa for massages and treatments. * And a fitness center for workouts or a game of tennis or squash.
The pools are fed from a natural well with a bottom temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
Pool temperatures range from 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in the outdoor lap pool to 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the jacuzzi.
From pools to relax in
To pools full of action
Where is Aquaworld?
Aquaworld is in the far northern part of Budapest on the Pest side. It can be reached by public transportation in about an hour from the tourist areas of Districts V, VI, or VII.
What We Did
Steve and I booked a standard room for three nights. We took advantage of the hotel’s 2+1 Hello Summer Deal; book 2 nights, get the third one free. The booking included half board (breakfast and dinner each day) and access to all areas of the complex.
When we weren’t enjoying the breakfast and dinner buffets, we spent most of our time relaxing in the warm pools. Our favorite was the indoor/outdoor pool that is part of the hotel.
The outdoor pool in the hotel section
We also spent time in the waterpark section, where I tried out the slides, and we both had a little too much fun in the current pool. I would have loved to get a massage, but I don’t yet feel comfortable having someone close to me for an extended period of time. Too bad, as a 50-minute massage costs less than $40.
I wasn’t the only big kid loving the slides
Steve enjoying the current pool
What We Liked
I am a pushover for any hotel stay that includes a breakfast buffet.
Did someone say bacon?
Throw in dinner, and I am over the moon. Both meals were served buffet style. You can only do so much with breakfast food, but there was an incredible variety. There was also a lot of variety for dinner, and the food was delicious.
The staff was polite and helpful. When we first got to our room, Steve noticed that the shower door did not shut properly. We immediately informed the front desk, and it was fixed within the hour.
What Could Have Been Better
We wanted a light lunch one day, so we stopped at an outside kiosk. We both ordered a hot dog. We each got three mini hot dogs in a dry roll. The roll crumbled as soon as we bit it. It wasn’t on par with the rest of the food.
Good To Know
Our room did not have a balcony, and the towel warmer that we would have liked to use to dry our swimsuits and robes was not working because it relies on hot water. Being summer, the boiler was off.
Also, there was only one hook in the bathroom, so there wasn’t a good place to dry swimsuits and robes. We could see clothes drying racks on the balconies of other rooms. If you visit in warm weather, you would be well-advised to get a room with a balcony.
I didn’t pack shampoo and conditioner because they have always been available in hotel rooms. There was shampoo and body wash in the shower, but no conditioner. You can buy it in the gift shop if you need it. Better to bring your own.
Robes are provided for guests to wear to and from the pool. Slippers are not, so be sure to have flip flops, as street shoes are not allowed in the pool areas.
The hotel had two shops that sell swimwear, flip flops, toiletries, toys, etc., but they were only open on certain days and only for a few hours on those days (both at the same time).
The main restaurant in the hotel
Aquaworld is listed as a four-star resort. Nothing was dirty or in disrepair. As you can see from the photo above, the hotel is lovely, but the room we were in looked like it was close to needing an update as the carpet and furniture looked a little worn. I would give the water facilities high marks, but consider the hotel room a three-star.
The park was very busy, which is to be expected on a hot summer day. All water areas allow kids of all ages, so you may not find the peace and quiet you are looking for, at least in the summer. We found it best to get to the meal sittings early before the crowds and noise reached a crescendo.
We loved our experience at Aquaworld and plan to go back.
Under the dome
Who Is It For?
Anyone who loves being in or around water. You can chose to relax or get a little adrenaline fix.
I imagine any child entering the waterpark would thing he is in Heaven. No matter what age a child is, there is plenty to do in and out of the water.
So many ways to play
There were many adults without children too. Like us they took the children’s rambunctiousness in stride. Perhaps there should be an area for adults only.
How Does Aquaworld Compare to Therme Bucuresti?
Steve and I could not help comparing Aquaworld to one of our favorite places, Therme Bucuresti in Bucharest, Romania. Both have thermal pools, waterpark activities, and spa facilities. Even though we enjoyed Aquaworld, we definitely prefer Therme.
A few photos from Therme Bucuresti in 2018
Therme is 10 years newer (built in 2016) and much more eye-catching. It boasts the largest botanical garden in Romania, with 800,000 plants. Aquaworld has a few plants placed throughout.
The saunas at Therme are all themed. Aquaworld’s saunas are standard issue.
Therme has several mineral soaking pools and with signs stating the benefits of each.
One way Aquaworld is better than Therme is having a hotel attached to the property. Maybe someday Therme will add a hotel. That would rock.
Both Therme and Aquaworld are a great value for visitors from the U.S. Our total cost for the two of us at Aquaworld for three nights was $555. It breaks down as follows:
Room, breakfast buffet, dinner buffet, water park entrance for 3 days
2 lunches and drinks with 3 dinners
Aquaworld’s slogan is “check in, chill out,” and it lived up to that promise.
Steve and I plan to visit again and think it will be even better after kids go back to school or in the winter when we can laze in the warm water of the outdoor pool while snow falls around us.
We highly recommend Auqaworld when you are in Budapest. And if you happen to visit Bucharest, be sure to experience Therme.
One of the biggest concerns people contemplating long-term travel have is handling medical care on the road. I am not going to sugarcoat it: it can be a challenge. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that no matter how well-laid your plans are, something will come along to mess them up.
After more than three years on the road, Steve and I have had several medical-related experiences. All were positive except one. In this post, I will share those experiences with you so you can get a feel for the types of medical issues that may arise when you travel.
Medical Insurance Options
There are so many things to consider when choosing how to insure yourself and your family when you travel long-term. Do you keep your U.S. plan? Buy a travel insurance policy? Can you afford to self-insure?
These issues are beyond the scope of this post. If you want to dig deeper into medical insurance options on the road, I recommend starting with two articles by Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo:
Steve and I both retired when we were 60. Since we were too young for Medicare and didn’t know how the whole world travel thing would go, we needed to have a solid U.S. medical insurance policy. We opted to stay with the plans we had through our employers.
In each case, we paid premiums through COBRA for the first 18 months after retirement. The combined monthly cost for COBRA was $1,500. If you do the math, you can see that it cost us a very scary $27,000 for the 18 months we were both on COBRA. I checked alternatives, but anything else would cost at least that much, even the Affordable Care Act (ACA), since you aren’t eligible for a subsidy if you have a viable insurance option available to you.
ACA Saves the Day
The good news is that once Steve’s COBRA period ended in July 2018, we were able to sign him up for insurance through ACA. This worked out great because we were living off savings, so we did not have taxable income. For the past three years, one or both of us have been insured through ACA.
I am currently the only one on ACA, and I pay $26 per month. We paid $65 per month in 2020 for coverage for both of us. The best part was that we got the most generous policy either of us has ever had. That’s saying something since both of our work policies were very good. The new policy is a PPO worth about $1,000 per month.
Disclaimer: everyone’s situation is different, and it is important to understand how ACA works. We happened to luck out with a great set of circumstances when our COBRA periods ended.
We have U.S. medical insurance policies in case we return to the U.S. to live or get medical care, but were pleased to find that our policies paid for a large part of coverage outside of the U.S.
The first time was when I had to visit a doctor in Quito, Ecuador. The total bill was $80. I was still on my PPO through COBRA, so I submitted a claim online. Insurance paid all but the $20 copay.
When Steve had his skiing accident in January of 2020, he was on a PPO through ACA. We decided to submit a claim but didn’t expect much. We were thrilled when they paid $1,800 of our $2,100 costs.
Since that time, we submitted all our medical bills and were reimbursed for most of them.
Travel Medical Insurance
The Choice to Self-Insure
We chose not to purchase travel medical insurance because everything we have read says how cheap medical care is outside the U.S., and we have savings to cover potential costs. And as discussed above, most of our costs have been reimbursed by our U.S. PPOs.
Then Steve turned 65 in January, meaning he was now eligible for Medicare. It also means he is no longer eligible for ACA. Since the basic medicare policy does not cover care outside of the U.S., and he needed proof of insurance to get a residence permit in Hungary, he signed up for Nomad Insurance through SafetyWing. It costs him $138 every four weeks.
One of the cool things about SafetyWing is that you can start and stop it in 4-week intervals. I cannot comment on how good the coverage is since we thankfully haven’t used it yet.
If you don’t have enough savings to cover an unexpected bill that could run into thousands of dollars, you should definitely get travel medical insurance.
The One Insurance We Won’t Travel Without
One insurance we always have is evacuation insurance. We felt this was particularly important since we started our travels on a transatlantic cruise. As high as the amount of our COBRA coverage was, it pales compared to the cost of a medical evacuation.
According to this Forbes Advisor article, “The average emergency medical evacuation costs can set you back $25,000 within North America and up to $100,000 from Europe, according to estimates by Travelex Insurance. In more remote locations, a medical evacuation can cost as much as $250,000”. You can find out more here.
We have used MedJet for our evacuation insurance since 2018. Medjet is available to citizens of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It is not medical insurance. It will not cover the cost of seeing a doctor or being hospitalized. Medjet Assist will arrange medical transportation to a hospital in your home country if you are hospitalized while traveling. It will also repatriate your remains should you die while traveling. The Medjet Horizon policy adds crisis response services for a variety of situations.
The price is based on age and the length of coverage. We are in our 60s and get coverage for the entire year. With the $100 discount for AARP members, it costs us $1,100 per year, a great deal since AARP membership for two is only $16 per year.
Beware that while Medjet provides a layer of comfort, it may not be available when you want it. In the early part of the pandemic, Medjet informed their policyholders that they would not be able to evacuate you for any reason because of travel restrictions. Eventually, they were able to resume some transports, including Covid related ones, in some parts of the world. They recently announced as of July 12, 2021, they will transport COVID patients globally.
Our Original Plan
Before we left the U.S., we discussed our plans with our doctors, and they gave us prescriptions for a year. We filled each prescription for the first three months. For our inexpensive medications, we filled the rest of the prescriptions by finding the best prices using GoodRx and paying out-of-pocket.
Steve and I each take a few medications that are too expensive to pay for out-of-pocket in the U.S., so we left with only three month’s worth of these medicines, knowing we would have to refill them while traveling (which is discussed below).
We enlisted our daughter Stephanie’s help in filling our prescriptions for the expensive medicines. We order refills online every quarter, and Stephanie picks them up. The plan was that we would restock for the year on our annual return to the U.S., then we would repeat the cycle.
The plan was foolproof until it wasn’t. Because of the pandemic, we decided not to return to the U.S. in December 2020. That meant we couldn’t pick up the medicine Stephanie had saved for us or see our doctors for refills. That meant we now had to refill all our prescriptions in whichever place we find ourselves.
Traveling With Medication
Since we travel with hundreds of prescription pills, we follow these procedures:
Each of us has a letter from our doctor listing the medications we take, why we take them, and how long we plan to be away.
We also keep about a week’s worth of medication, the doctor’s letters, and copies of our prescriptions in our carry-ons and packed the rest in our checked luggage.
The medicine in our check luggage is kept in the pharmacy-issued bottles, although we do combine bottles to save space.
So far (knock wood), we have not had any issues bringing our medications into other counties.
Your Medicine Will (Probably) Be Cheaper Outside the U.S.
Our first experience with buying medicine overseas was in Croatia. Steve was about to run out of a few medications. He found out that he would need prescriptions for them, so he found an English-speaking doctor to write them. The cost of the doctor’s visit was only $15. The cost of the medicine was $212. The cheapest it could be purchased out-of-pocket in Jacksonville at that time was $1,832.
One month later, I noticed that I was about to run out of one medication. By now, we were in Bucharest, Romania. I was kicking myself for not having taken care of it when Steve did his. But all’s well that ends well. I stopped at a pharmacy to check that if I would need a prescription. The pharmacist said I didn’t. She asked how many boxes I wanted and handed them to me. The cost was $45 per box, compared to the lowest price in Jacksonville of $422 per box.
If you take away one piece of information from this post, it should be this: every country has different rules about which medications require a prescription. Before you visit a doctor, stop by a pharmacy and ask if you need a prescription for your specific medicine or check online.
Every time we have purchased medicine while traveling, it has been in boxed blister packs. The pro is that you can walk into a pharmacy, and as long as they have what you need (they usually do), you walk out a few minutes later all set. No waiting for the bottles to be filled. The downside is that you have to take each pill out of the blister packs.
But Your Medicine May Not Be Available
I found out the hard way that not all medicines are available in every country. I ran out of the thyroid medicine liothyronine in Ecuador. Since it wasn’t available in Ecuador, I arranged to have my daughter mail some to me. I never received it. Fortunately, it is something I can do without.
Liothyronine is also not available in Hungary. My doctor in Budapest explained why: liothyronine is a booster for Levothyroxine, so only a small percent of Levothyroxine users need it. There are not enough potential customers in Hungary to make it available.
So, two words to the wise:
If you have a medication you can’t live without, make sure you have enough with you or that it is available where you are going.
Do not count on getting it via mail. It may work, but in my case, it didn’t, and it was a costly experience both time-wise and money-wise.
You can’t walk into a store like Target or Costco and walk out with a year’s worth of pain relievers for $5. For one thing, some medicines that are OTC in the U.S. require a prescription in some countries. Secondly, if a medication is sold OTC, it will usually be in a box of 10 or 20 tablets and cost much more per tablet than we are used to paying.
And some aren’t available. In Budapest, I couldn’t buy diphenhydramine hydrochloride (anti-itch) medication (crème or pills). My doctor suggested another OTC medicine, and it seems fine, but once I get back to the U.S., I will be replenishing my diphenhydramine hydrochloride supply.
Our Experiences With Doctors
The second time we visited a doctor was in our second year of travel. We arrived in Quito, Ecuador, from the Galapagos Islands. Soon after we arrived, we both started feeling lethargic and slightly nauseous. At first, we feared altitude sickness because the Galapagos Islands are at sea level, and Quito is at an elevation of 9,350 feet (2,850 meters). Digestive issues followed a few days later. After a bit, Steve felt better, but my symptoms lingered long enough that I decided to see a doctor.
The visit couldn’t have been smoother. I found the name of an English-speaking doctor on my insurance company’s website. When I called, the receptionist put the doctor on the line. I explained what was going on, and he said to come right in.
I saw the doctor, and he ordered some tests, which were done right away in the same building. After a few hours wait, I got the results. Total cost: $80.
Before we traveled to Budapest in March of 2020, I ran across a blog that recommended FirstMed for English-speaking travelers. I made a note of it just in case, and I am glad I did. We have been in Budapest for sixteen months now because of the pandemic and have used the FirstMed services many times.
At first, we only visited to get prescriptions, and the out-of-pocket cost was reasonable. When it became evident that we would be here a while, we signed up for the Premium Plan. It cost $1,200 for the two of us ($689 for an individual). The plan covers a lot, including up to 28 doctor visits, annual checkups, and diagnostics. Learn about the plans they offer.
I was blown away by their efficiency when I had my annual physical (included in the Premium Plan). It started with a visit with my primary doctor, then a mammogram including ultrasound, an ECG, bloodwork, and two vaccines. All in 1 ½ hours and all in the same building.
Our Hospital Experiences
We have had two experiences with hospitals; one bad and one good.
The bad one was very bad. That was Steve’s nightmarish experience in Bulgaria after his skiing accident. He was in a small hospital in the small town of Razlog. But in speaking with others in Bulgaria, I believe that medical care isn’t very good anywhere in the country, even in the capital.
Our second experience with a foreign hospital was in Budapest when I had an e-scooter accident. That was much more in line with the type of facility and treatment we are used to.
The quality of medical care won’t stop me from visiting it a location, but it may limit what I choose to do there. For example, now that I know that medical care is not so good in Bulgaria, I wouldn’t choose to ski there.
Here are two articles that rank healthcare by country:
I hope this post has provided you with some useful information about the medical care challenges long-term and full-time travelers face. I am not an expert, and everything I have written is anecdotal; however, if you have any questions, Steve and I would be glad to answer them to the best of our abilities.
As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your medical care experiences while traveling.
Safe and happy traveling, Linda
Featured photo by Daniele D’Andreti on Unsplash.com
Hello, I hope all is well with you. Steve and I are still in Budapest and plan to be here for another year. It’s been another low-key month, but things are definitely looking up here. Hopefully, they are where you are too.
Our big news is that we finally got our Covid vaccines!
Here in Hungary, things appear to be going in the right direction. The number of Covid cases dropped below 100 per day by the end of June (according to Worldometer). At month-end, the government announced that once the number of vaccinated people reaches 5.5 million (about 56% of the population), they would further ease restrictions.
Current restrictions include masks in shops and on public transportation. Only those with immunity cards can visit museums and gyms, eat inside restaurants, or stay at hotels. Since we don’t have our immunity cards yet, we have not been able to do these things.
We Finally Got Vaccinated
In Hungary, like the U.S., citizens who wanted to be vaccinated could do so in the spring. Being foreigners, we had to wait until the Hungarian government vaccinated its citizens. Steve and I understood that and were OK with being at the end of the line.
We weren’t OK with the lack of information and that the website for non-citizens kept crashing. Steve was diligent about keeping us registered, but alas, it did no good.
It was a Facebook post by an ex-pat that led us to our vaccines. This person said he sent an email to the Army hospital asking about vaccines and was told to come in the next day. Steve immediately sent an email, and sure enough, he received one back telling us to come in the next morning.
Our first and second choices were Pfizer and Moderna, but we were offered J&J and decided to take that instead of waiting who knows how much longer.
After our shot, we were told that we would get our immunity cards in the mail. It could be a week; it could be a month. We didn’t have our cards after two weeks, so we decided to visit the local office to see what we could do. The woman who waited on Steve told him he was not in the system. Surprise, surprise. So we continue to wait for our immunity cards. There’s a good chance that the immunity card restrictions will be lifted before we get our cards.
Food, Food, and More Food
There is still a lot we can’t do, but we can eat outdoors at restaurants. And did we ever. We enjoyed several meals at our favorite Budapest restaurant, Kiskakukk. We revisited favorites from last year and found a few new places.
We were sad to see that one of our favorites, Pizza Eataliano (dumb name, great food), was a victim of the pandemic. Another favorite, Babka, changed their menu. They no longer offer either of our favorites.
We Are Legal For Another Year
In May, we completed all the paperwork to renew our Residence Permits for another year. Early in June, right on schedule, our new permits arrived in the mail. Yay!
We are now allowed to stay in Hungary until mid-July 2022. The best part is that when travel opens up, we will be able to travel in the Schengen Area at will, as opposed to being restricted to 90 days out of every 180 days with our U.S. passport. For now, we will be happy to be able to travel within Hungary, which should happen in July if the Delta variant doesn’t take hold here.
On June 2nd Steve and I celebrated 42 years of marriage by doing two of our favorite things, eating and visiting a garden. We started with a light lunch at Kiskakukk, then strolled the Buda Arboretum for a few hours. We ended the day with a wonderful dinner at TG Italia.
Lovin’ Our New Home
We moved to an apartment closer to the city center in May. We love our new location. We are on the 8th floor overlooking a main street. The views are terrific. As Steve said, “These are really good seats.” After living in suburbia for 60 years, it turns out that we love city living.
Another plus to our new place is that we are at a major transportation hub. The airport shuttle bus is literally across the street. We can take a short bus ride to the Lehel Market when it’s time for some heavy-duty grocery shopping.
Nice Weather (While it Lasted)
After a housebound winter and a chilly spring, it was great to have warm, sunny weather. While we were busy eating our way around the city, a heatwave struck. For the last two weeks of the month, highs ranged from 88 degrees up to 100 degrees. This is 20 degrees higher than average.
Fortunately, we have air conditioning, but since we couldn’t visit indoor venues, we laid low during this time. Daily naps became the norm.
You would think that living in Florida for 30 years would have acclimated us. That doesn’t seem to be the case.
A Semi-Productive Month
In between nap time and reading time, I finished a post about several Holocaust Memorial sites in Budapest and one about the Lehel Market. I am still slogging away on my Italian lessons (will I ever use them?), and thanks to Zoom, I can enjoy the inspiration and camaraderie of my fellow toastmasters at Toast of Jax.
We hope to start traveling around the country in July. There are several places we want to visit, including multiple towns around Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, and a popular vacation spot. We visited the lakeside town of Balatonfured in October and loved it.
Locally, we are also looking forward to doing some of the things we couldn’t do during the height of pandemic, including seeing the inside of the Hungarian Parliament building and the Dohany Street Synagogue.
Steve and I hope all is going well for you. We would love to hear from you in our comments section.
Stay safe and healthy,
Featured photo by Linda – Vaci Street coming back to life after the pandemic shutdown.
Budapest is full of incredible things to see and do. One that makes every list of things to do in the city is the Great Market Hall (Vasarcsarnok), also referred to as the Central Market Hall. It is worth a trip to view the impressive building with its Zsolnay tile roof.
However, for something different I suggest you visit the Lehel Market (Lehel Csarnok).
Full disclosure, I am not a fan of markets. I don’t enjoy food shopping, so I want to get in and out ASAP, not stroll from stall to stall making multiple purchases. Also, most markets are open fewer hours than supermarkets, so they tend to be crowded. But when Steve and I happened across Lehel Market one day, I was impressed enough to return another day for a shopping trip and a chance to photograph its unique interior.
You may be shocked when you first see it. It has nothing in common with any other building in Budapest. It is supposed to resemble a ship.
I think the outside is an eyesore, and I am not the only one. Here is a quote from Steve Fallon, Lonely Planet:
“Lehel Csarnok is housed in a hideous boat-like structure designed by László Rajk, son of the Communist minister of the interior executed for ‘Titoism’ in 1949. Apparently this is his revenge.”
Once you enter the market, you will be greeted with a colorful interior full of brightly painted beams and curving railings.
Both markets are heavy on food products: produce, pastries, meats, herbs, and spices (including many paprika products). Both have a supermarket in the basement and stalls on the upper levels where you can buy non-food items or grab a quick bite. The upper floors in the Lehel Market are teeming with inexpensive household and personal products (think dollar store after dollar store).
Lehel is also more “market-like,” in my opinion. The Central Market has a touristy feel with the first-floor stalls flanking wide aisles.
Lehel Market combines stalls with plenty of tables full of produce.
The Central Market is a draw for tourists, while Lehel is more of a locals’ shopping center.
The Central Market is on the Pest side near the foot of the Liberty Bridge in Fővám tér (District IX). Lehel Market is on Vaci utca 9-15, just a bit north of the Westend Mall. Both can be reached easily by public transportation. Lehel Market is a bit further from the city center, but not so far that you should miss it if markets are your thing.
If you find the history of the Holocaust as poignant and powerful as I do, you may wish to visit some of the Holocaust memorials in Budapest. This post highlights ten sites in Budapest that keep the memory of that terrible time alive and honor those who lost their lives as well as those who risked their lives to save the innocent.
While the Nazis persecuted many groups, the largest impact was on Jews. Throughout the post, I will reference the impact on the Jews of Hungary. This is not meant to ignore or diminish the effects on other groups.
The ten memorials are organized by district. The districts are laid out like this:
1. Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation
This beautiful but controversial statue on the southern edge of Liberty Square was erected during the night in July 2014. It shows the Archangel Gabriel (a national symbol of Hungary) being attacked by an eagle (representing Nazi Germany).
Some Hungarians feel that the statue puts all the blame of the persecution of Jews on the Germans and ignores the fact that Hungarians collaborated with the Nazis and aided in the deportation of their countryman. You can learn more about this controversy here.
In front of the statue, you can see a poignant collection of photos and artifacts that keep the memories of the victims alive. It is an impassioned response to the Memorial to the Victims of German Occupation.
In addition to the two items above, you can see the Memorial to the Soviet Red Army in the northern part of Liberty Square. It honors the soldiers who liberated Hungary from the Nazis. Unfortunately, the Soviets went on to occupy Hungary for 45 years.
Many statues from Soviet times have been removed from their places of honor and erected in Momento Park, but the Monument to the Soviet Red Army remains in a place of honor.
2. Shoes on the Danube
This unique memorial commemorates the thousands of people killed by the Arrow Cross Party. This fascist, anti-semitic party ruled Hungary for less than six months in the fall and winter of 1944-1945.
One way the party terrorized Jews was to line up a group along the bank of the Danube River, force them to remove their shoes (because leather had value), then shoot them and let the river wash their bodies away.
The memorial was designed by artist Gyula Pauer and was unveiled in 2005. It consists of 60 pairs of iron shoes representing the men, women, and children murdered here.
In addition to this atrocity, the Arrow Cross Party deported 80,000 people to the Austrian concentration camps.
Unfortunately, hatred remains in some people’s hearts. After the unveiling ceremony, several pairs of shoes were removed with a crowbar and kicked into the river. At a later time, pig’s feet were found in the shoes.
The monument is on the Pest side of the Danube River, south of the Hungarian Parliament Building.
3. Raoul Wallenberg Bench
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, businessman, and diplomat who served as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest in 1944. During that time, he saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing protective passports and sheltering them in buildings that were designated Swedish territory.
Wallenberg was taken into custody by the Soviets in early 1945. The circumstances of his death remain a mystery. One likely scenario was that he was executed in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow in 1947. He would have been 34 years old.
The bench is on the southeastern side of Elizabeth Square.
There is also a plaque honoring Wallenberg at the corner of Raoul Wallenberg utca and Pozsony utca in District XIII.
4. House of Terror (Terror Háza)
A visit to the House of Terror will take you chronologically through the history of two Hungarian totalitarian dictatorships of the twentieth century. It begins with the Nazi occupation of Hungary in March of 1944 and continues through the first eleven years of the 45-year long Soviet occupation.
The two main parties to know are:
The Arrow Cross Party – This far-right group was modeled after the Nazi Party of Germany. They were in power for less than six months in 1944 and 1945. During that short time, they murdered between 10,000 and 15,000 civilians and deported 80,000 Hungarians to concentration camps.
The AVH – The secret police of the People’s Republic of Hungary during the early part of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Hungary. This group was comparable to the KGB. I was shocked to learn that this group used concentration camps after WWII but could not find much information about them.
This museum is particularly impactful because it is located in the building used by the two dictatorships to detain, torture, and kill those they considered enemies of the state.
“We are not in a distant military prison, not deep down in a dungeon, but on the avenue of the civil world, just a half a metre from the pavement, from the everyday life.”
To do this museum justice, be prepared to spend at least two hours.
Location: Andrássy Avenue 60
5. Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones)
In Budapest and other cities in Europe, you can find plaques about 4 inches square embedded in the pavement in front of buildings. They commemorate residents of the buildings who were victims of the Nazis.
These stones uphold the Talmud’s teaching that a person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.
Each plaque includes the resident’s name, date of birth, and as much information about their places and dates of deportation and death as is known.
This one reads, “Here inhabited Dr. Istvan Zoltan, Born 1899, Deported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp on Oct. 20, 1944, Killed April 18, 1946.”
These two stones are for a husband and wife. The husband, Jozsef, was born in 1905. He was deported in 1942, although no destination is given. He died in 1945 in the Hungarian town of Koszeg, where the Nazis had a slave labor camp. He may have been one of the 4,500 people who died of typhus in that camp.
More detail is known about the wife, Joszefne. She was taken to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in the Czech Republic. This was a hybrid concentration camp and ghetto. According to the stone, she died in Budapest in 1946 as a consequence of her captivity.
In Hungary, it was traditional for the wife not only to take the husband’s last name but for her to also take his first name with ‘ne’ added to the end. So, in this case, the wife, given the name Magdolna at birth, became Jozsefne upon her marriage.
While there are stolpersteine in many of Budapest’s district, the greatest concentration can be seen in District VII since a part of this district was historically Jewish. Learn more from A Guide to Budapest’s Jewish Quarter by Offbeat Budapest.
There are more than 70,000 stones in over 2,000 cities and towns in Europe. Read more about the stones in this BBC article.
6. The Emanuel Tree Memorial
Each leaf of this sparkling silver tree has the name of a Hungarian Jew killed during the Holocaust. The tree is in the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Garden of the Dohany Street Synagogue. It stands over mass graves of some of those murdered by the Nazis in 1944–45.
There are four red marble plates nearby that recognize 240 non-Jewish Hungarians who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust.
The tree was installed in 1991 and paid for by the American actor Tony Curtis in memory of his Hungarian-born father, Emanuel Schwartz.
The tree can be seen at Wesselényi utca 7. It is part of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives.
I took the photo through a fence because we couldn’t visit the museum during the pandemic. There is much more to see in the Dohany Street Synagogue and the Jewish Museum. I will update this post once we can visit them.
7. Ghetto Memorial Wall
I ran across this memorial by surprise while walking down Dohany utca one afternoon. As I passed an apartment building, I noticed what looked like bullet holes in the front wall. Just past the building, I saw three large pieces of rusted metal with inspirational writing in three languages (Hungarian, English, and Hebrew). It turned out to be the Ghetto Memorial Wall.
Next to the writing is a map of the Jewish Ghetto. There are holes through which you can see scenes from that time.
In November 1944, 200,000 Jews were forced into the ghetto. When the Soviet Army liberated it during the Battle of Budapest in January 1945, only 70,000 residents remained.
The memorial was installed in 2015 in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.
You can see this memorial at Dohány utca 34.
8. Hanna Szenes Mini Statue
There are about 20 mini statues in Budapest. They are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. The statues are small (less than 1-foot square) and set throughout the city. Their subjects range from pop culture to politics, from humor to history.
One of the statues honors a woman named Hanna Szenes. She was a Hungarian-born Jewish war hero who parachuted into Yugoslavia during World War II to assist anti-Nazi forces. Unfortunately, she was captured and executed at the tender age of 23. Throughout her imprisonment and torture, she refused to give her captors the information they sought.
The statue is at the corner of Hanna Szenes Park at Rózsa utca and Jósika utca.
Carl Lutz was a Swiss diplomat assigned to Budapest in 1942. He is credited with saving the lives of 62,000 Jews from 1942 until the end of WWII in 1945. This memorial to him was erected in 1991.
Lutz housed Jews in safe houses in the city. The most famous is The Glass House, the former site of a glass import business. There is a small but well-regarded museum in this building at Vadasz utca 29. Unfortunately, we have not visited it yet because it has been closed during the pandemic.
In addition to safe houses, Lutz arranged for protective letters that allowed 8,000 Jews to emigrate to Palestine. This involved working with the Nazis, who grudgingly allowed him to offer protection to some Jews. Learn more about the amazing Carl Lutz and the use of protection letters.
There is a plaque on the wall next to the statue that reads:
“Whoever saves a life is considered as if he has saved an entire world” Talmud
This memorial is a Dob utca 12.
10. Holocaust Memorial Center
The Holocaust Memorial Center is a memorial to the more than half a million Hungarian Jews killed by the Nazis. Its permanent exhibit, titled “From the Deprivation of Rights to Genocide,” follows history as Jews in Hungary were first stripped of their property and human rights to the horrors of mass shootings and deportation to concentration camps.
A strikingly modern building houses the museum. In the courtyard, you can see a glass hall called the Tower of Lost Communities. The names of 1,441 settlements that lost their entire Jewish population to deportations.
At the end of the exhibit, you can see the small but beautiful Budapest Synagogue.
The museum opened in 2004 in the location of the Páva utca Synagogue. There is a lot to take in, so allow at least a few hours. Almost everything has an English translation.
Steve and I love hearing from our readers. Please let us know if you have seen any of these memorials and what they meant to you. As always, I have done my best to be accurate, but if my facts are not correct, please let me know.
Well, here we are, fourteen months into the pandemic. I hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and sane. It can be a challenge at times, but things are looking up.
Steve and I are still in Budapest, waiting to be vaccinated and be able to travel again. Here is a look at what May 2021 was like for Steve and me.
State of the Pandemic
Top on everyone’s mind: pandemic numbers and restrictions. Soon after we arrived in Budapest in mid-March 2020, the entire country went on lockdown. It was so quiet. Fear of the unknown kept people inside. We reached a comfort level where we would take a walk about twice a week. The one bright spot was enjoying landmarks like Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle without the crowds.
The first shutdown lasted only two months, and even after the country opened back up, the Covid numbers remained low. Then in late summer, the number of cases started rapidly increasing. A second shutdown began in November and didn’t end until May.
Despite being in the second shutdown, the number of cases exploded in March and April. At its high point, there were more than 10,000 new cases per day. That is a lot considering that there are less than 10 million people in the whole country.
As fortunate as we felt to be here in the early stages of Covid, particularly when the U.S. was struggling, we are now shocked to find that Hungary has the highest reported Covid death rate in the world, according to Worldometers.info.
We were finally able to register for the vaccine in early May. Now we must wait until we are notified that it is our turn.
The Hungarian government is proud of the number of vaccinations it has administered (50% of citizens are vaccinated), but they are struggling to vaccinate non-citizens. The website for non-citizens has crashed several times, and the process for getting the vaccination card has been fraught with problems.
So we wait, hoping to get vaccinated in the not too distant future. The Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Astra-Zenica, and Pfizer vaccines are all available to some extent, along with the Russian and Chinese ones. We are not sure how much choice we will have when our turn comes.
I can attest that vaccine envy is a real thing.
Renewing Our Residence Permit
We have permits that allow us to stay in Hungary until mid-July. Since things are still uncertain with the virus, we decided to extend them for another year.
Last year we did this on our own. It involved three visits to the Office of Alien Policing and a total of 20 hours of waiting. It was as if the Marquis de Sade ran the DMV.
This time we hired a company called nVisaHungary to represent us. We still had to provide tons of paperwork, but our representative’s guidance made it less stressful. We had our appointment in mid-May. It was quick and painless, so hopefully, we will have our new permits by mid-June.
It costs $850 for the immigration guidance for the two of us, which is a lot of money, but given how much we’ve saved over the past fourteen months, we felt it was a luxury we could afford. And if we don’t get the permits, we pay nothing.
Moving Around But Not On
Steve and I are anxious to get moving. Sitting in one place for more than a year is not how we roll. Right now, the best we can do is move apartments.
A Catch-22 of applying for a residence permit is that you need to have proof of accommodations for the duration, so you have to sign a lease before you know if you will be able to stay.
We were in an apartment in District IX since October. There were many things we loved about it. It is bright, spacious, and comfortable. It has a full kitchen (what is referred to as an American kitchen here), a living room, dining room, two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, and two balconies. It is also very close to a supermarket and just a few blocks from a small mall.
The downside is that it is a bit away from the city center. During the shutdown, that was OK, but as things open up and we get vaccinated, we want to be in the city center.
The apartment was an Airbnb listing, and because there was much more supply than demand, we paid less than $1,000 per month. But now that there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, rents have taken a big jump. It would cost us at least 50% more to stay there long-term. On top of that, our host isn’t the best communicator.
We wanted to find a place that would be more cost-effective because once it is safe, we plan to visit other towns in Hungary and nearby countries. That means double accommodation costs.
We moved into our new place on May 26th. It is a bit smaller than the last place but very stylish. The owner used to have an interior decorating business, so it is full of touches you don’t often see in a rental.
A Taste of Freedom
By May 1st, the Covid numbers had come down enough for closed businesses, including restaurants, museums, and gyms, to open, but only to people who could prove they were vaccinated.
Since Steve and I are in our 60s with some health issues, we have been erring on the side of caution. We have kept our non-essential excursions to a minimum and did not eat outdoors at restaurants once that became available.
On the 21st, we finally let our guard down a little and took advantage of a beautiful day, which was a welcome change from the cold, cloudy weather that has plagued the city. We walked to the Liberty Bridge to see the latest mini-statue by Mihály Kolodko, then continued to the Buda side of the city.
We also enjoyed our first meal out in more than six months. We went to one of our favorite restaurants, Kiskakukk. The name means little cuckoo. It is more than 100 years old and serves traditional Hungarian food. I can only vouch for the stuffed cabbage, though. It is the only thing I ever order there because I absolutely love it.
Now that things are opening up, here are three posts to inspire you while in Budapest:
Despite being locked down for half a year, we have kept busy, and the days and months have gone quickly. In addition to working on this blog, I am studying Italian and have reconnected with my Jacksonville Toastmasters group, Toast of Jax, thanks to Zoom.
All this downtime has given me a lot of opportunities to read. In May, I discovered a new author, Joshilyn Jackson. I am on my fifth book by her.
Steve has been equally busy cooking (he makes an incredible chicken paprikash), answering travel questions on Quora while promoting Wind and Whim, and tending to all the little things that need attention in a home. He has also been staying on top of the constantly changing Covid and vaccine situations.
June looks brighter than May in several ways:
The weather is getting better.
We hope to get our new residence permits in the early part of the month.
We may be able to take a side-trip or two within Hungary soon.
And last, but definitely not least, we will celebrate our 42nd anniversary on June 2nd. I am so grateful that Steve was willing to make the leap to full-time travel and that he is as curious about the world as I am. Despite being sidelined, I count my blessings every day.
Steve and I wish you a wonderful June.
Stay safe and healthy, Linda
Featured photo of the Liberty Bridge, the Danube River, and Pest as seen from Gellert hill – by Linda Gerbec
In this post, I will share some of our Airbnb experiences and the lessons we learned from them. If you are in a hurry, you can scroll to the last section, All Five Tips, in the table of contents (below).
If you use Airbnb, you probably do what we do: read the reviews and study the photos and map. Unfortunately, this isn’t always enough to ensure you’ll find the best Airbnb for your needs.
Below are five additional things we do when searching for an Airbnb and the stories of how we came to adopt them. Hopefully, they can help you have the best Airbnb experiences possible too.
All money is in U.S. dollars.
A Bumpy Start
Steve and I began our full-time travels in 2018. That year we traveled for eight months and stayed in seventeen accommodations, including twelve Airbnbs. Three years later, we still rely on Airbnb for our longer stays. However, it was not without some bumps in the beginning.
One host misrepresented his apartment, leaving us with a curtain in place of a bathroom door. Another host canceled our reservation eleven days before our arrival. But possibly the strangest thing was the solid block of ice in the freezer in our rental in Croatia.
Our First Curve Ball
We got off to a less than promising start when we booked an apartment in Barcelona a year before we began our travels. We decided on one and pushed the instant book key. Then we posted this milestone to Facebook.
The next day we got a message from Manuel, the host, saying the price was wrong. He didn’t name a new price but asked us to make an offer. We said no and asked him to cancel the reservation.
We didn’t want to cancel it because, as a guest, if you cancel an Airbnb reservation of 28 days or more (long-term in Airbnb land), you are liable for the first month’s fee. But Manuel wouldn’t budge.
After waiting several days for Manuel to cancel the reservation, I called Airbnb. They said the best thing was for us to cancel and there would be no penalty.
With that taken care of, we were able to book another apartment in Barcelona for $500 more than the first one. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a small balcony, and a washing machine. We were surprised to find that the washing machine was on the rooftop patio.
Lesson #1 – Do not instant book.
We now communicate with the host before booking. We verify the dates and price and ask questions about the accommodation.
We’re Staying in a Closet?
We were excited to find a studio in Paris for $1,000 per month. From the description, we knew it was small, and we knew that this was very inexpensive for Paris. We planned to spend two months in Paris, so we grabbed this baby.
The minute we walked in, we knew that there was no way we could spend two months there. There is small, and there is microscopic. The whole place was about 100 square feet. In addition, two things in the posting were misleading.
First, there was a picture of a Murphy bed with shelving on either side. There was a Murphy bed but no shelving because there wasn’t room for any.
Second, there was a review stating that the bathroom didn’t have a door, with a reply from the host saying there was a door. Unless door has a different meaning in France, this was a lie. There was a curtain separating the bathroom/kitchen area from the living/sleeping area. And it didn’t even go all the way across.
Because of these two issues, the host agreed to let us out of the second month without penalty.
Lesson #2 – We never book a place for more than one month. We can tolerate most places for that long.
Lesson– #2B -Always verify that there is a door on the bathroom. Only half kidding here.
With the second month’s Paris lodging canceled, we decided to spend that month in Strasbourg, France. We had to scramble because it was tourist season, but we found a place. We practiced the first lesson by communicating with the host before booking.
Eleven days before we were scheduled to arrive, she asked for an increase of 54%. We said no. She replied by saying we should cancel the booking. Apparently, she wanted to avoid the penalties Airbnb imposes on hosts when they cancel a booking. We held firm, and she eventually canceled it.
We ended up finding a place in Strasbourg that turned out to be nearly perfect. It was clean, spacious, and uncluttered. It was a little higher than our budget, but we were happy to pay the difference because the bathroom had an actual door, even if it was a sliding door that tended to open on a whim, requiring the use of a doorstop to guarantee privacy.
Lesson #3 – Do not book with any host whose comments show that they canceled a reservation unless the host provides a good reason.
We realize that emergencies happen. Airbnb gives hosts the option of responding to a cancellation post. If they don’t respond, we can only assume that they did not have a good reason to cancel on a past guest.
During this time, we had three more reservations booked through Airbnb, two of them long-term. We were feeling trapped but knew we had to make the best of it. I am happy to report that all these apartments had good, solid bathroom doors. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t other issues.
The next stay was three nights in London. We found what appeared to be a lovely two-bedroom flat, but it turned out to be quite dirty. The problems included food left in the sink, odor in the refrigerator, mold in the shower, stains on a curtain, and cooking supplies that belonged in the garbage.
I messaged the host to let him know that the apartment wasn’t clean and suggested he might want to see it for himself since he worked only two doors away. He did not respond to this. He did offer to have the cleaning crew come back.
We only had two full days in London, and we didn’t want to spend them waiting for cleaners. Nor did we trust them with our belongings, so we declined.
Because of the condition of the kitchen, we ate all meals out. Oh, darn! We were amused that his review of us included that “the apartment was returned clean and tidy.” What?
No new lesson here. Sometimes you just chalk it up to experience and move on.
On to Zagreb, Croatia
Our next stop was Zagreb, Croatia. We booked a spacious apartment for only $813 US. It had air conditioning and was clean and comfortable. And again, the bathroom had a good, solid door. There was only one problem, a solid block of ice in the freezer.
We were shown into the apartment by Mladen, a friend of our host. He did not speak English, and we don’t speak Croatian. Steve set about looking around the apartment. He opened the freezer door and saw the ice. Mladen quickly ran over signally “no” and firmly shut the door. OK, so we didn’t have use of the freezer, no big deal.
Shortly after he left, we had a message from our host telling us that we must not use the freezer to cool the apartment, and if the refrigerator breaks, we will be charged for it.
The next day Steve offered to defrost the freezer. Our host’s response was quite chilly. She told Steve not to touch it. She ended up sending Mladen over to take care of it. It turned out the entire freezer was a block of ice, so this problem had been going on for a while. We couldn’t understand why it wasn’t taken care of earlier.
Aside from this issue, we had a great stay in this apartment and managed to put this issue behind us when dealing with our host.
Lesson #4 – Take pictures of any problem areas as soon as you arrive, and discuss the big ones with the host.
We’ve been doing this from the beginning. The other thing we do is take pictures before we move any items so we can put them back where they were before we leave.
While in Zagreb, we took a side trip to Split, a small beach town on the Adriatic Sea. This time we rented from a Superhost for the first time. This was our best Airbnb experience up to that point.
Superhosts are Airbnb hosts who have met several requirements, including receiving high scores from guests, having no cancelations by the host except in extreme cases, and having a high rate of response to inquiries.
Lesson #5 – Rent from Superhosts whenever possible. You may still encounter a problem, but it is less likely.
Even though we put stock in the Superhost label, there were times when we did not choose a Superhost and had a wonderful experience like at Ryan’s place in Jacksonville, Florida. When we rented from Ryan, he was not a Superhost because his listing was too new. He is now.
During the rest of the year, we stayed in six more Airbnbs, including a sailboat in Lisbon. All but one host was a Superhost. Except for some mild seasickness on the boat, all these stays were comfortable and problem-free.
A word of warning if you stay on a boat. Check before you book to make sure it has snubbers. These are devices that prevent the boat from violently jerking while it is docked. The boat we stayed on did not have them. This wasn’t a problem until our last night. The strong winds caused the boat to jerk hard enough that it kept us awake all night. Luckily we didn’t get seasick, but it was a real threat.
Getting Our Groove
We spent most of 2019 in Latin America and didn’t have any problems with our Airbnb rentals except for renting one that was so close to perfect that it spoiled us for all others. We loved Sara’s Apartment in Medellin. It is spacious and has floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open to a huge balcony with a beautiful view.
During 2020 and 2021, we’ve continued to use Airbnb, but for much longer stays because of the pandemic. Like in 2019, they have all been very good.
Our Main Reasons for Using Airbnb
As of this writing we have stayed in twenty-eight Airbnbs. We plan to continue booking through Airbnb because:
We can get a comfortable apartment with a full kitchen for much less than a hotel would cost.
Most hosts offer discounts for stays of 28 days or longer.
The few times we have had issues Airbnb offered support.
The quality of accommodations on Airbnb is impressive.
We find the platform easy to use.
What We Spend
Our original budget allowed for accommodation costs of $1,000 for four weeks. After our Paris experience, we upped it to $1,400. We usually find a perfectly acceptable place close to attractions for less than this.
In a few cases, we have had to go a little over budget, with $1,600 being the highest. The average amount we spent for a 28-night stay before the pandemic was $1,200.
The Medellin apartment (above) was $1,400 for four weeks. This was our view from our 19th floor rental in San Jose, Costa Rica:
The building also had an indoor hot tub with a view of the mountains, a great deal at $1,200 for four weeks.
Our Personal Preferences
We are proponents of slow travel who often stay in one city for four weeks or more. As full-rime travelers we are not on vacation, but rather setting up house in a new place. For that reason we look for apartment with these things:
A well-stocked kitchen
A separate bedroom
Comfortable looking furniture in the living room
A table and chairs where we can take care of business (and write this blog)
A clothes washer (we don’t really need a dryer). See “Laundry on the Road” to learn about some of the challenges of doing laundry while traveling full-time.
All Five Tips
Through trial and error, we learned to make Airbnb work for us, and you can too by using these five rules:
1. Do not instant book. Communicate with the host before booking to verify the dates and price and get answers to any questions or concerns you have.
2. Only book a place for the period of time for which you can deal with a less than ideal situation. For us it’s one month, for you it might be different.
3. Avoid hosts who have unexplained cancellations.
Buda Castle sits on a hill overlooking the Danube. A fun way to get up the hill is on the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló). It is a 150-year-old funicular railway that will take you from Clark Adam Square (Clark Ádám tér) at the end of the Buda side of the Chain Bridge to Buda Castle and back down again. You can purchase a one-way or round-trip ticket at the entrance to the funicular.
Clark Adam Square is at the end of the Chain Bridge. As of this writing, the bridge is undergoing renovation and is closed to pedestrian traffic. It will be closed to all traffic by June 2021. The work is expected to be completed by August 2023.
2. A Statue of King Saint Stephen
To the north of Buda Castle, you will find Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) and the Matthias Church (Mátyás–templom) . You can also see this elegant statue of King Saint Stephen (Szent István király), the first king of Hungary. He is also known as Stephen I and is credited with bringing Christianity to Hungary.
You can see the statue near the Matthias Church at Szentháromság tér 2.
3. The Red Hedgehog House
The Red Hedgehog House (Vörös Sün Ház) is thought to be the oldest building in Budapest (circa 1260). This former inn was also used as a theater and a cabernet/brothel during its long life. The hedgehog, however, didn’t take up residence until the early 19th century.
When we visited, there were tables outside, but because of the pandemic, there wasn’t anything going on. Even so, if you are in the Castle District, it is fun to go on a hunt for the red hedgehog over the front door.
The red hedgehog resides at Hess András tér 3.
4. Listening Ears
If you walk along the Danube River on the Buda side below Buda Castle, you can see this contraption:
These Air Defense Early Warning Listening Ears were used to hear approaching bombers during World War I. You can read about the listening ears concept in this article about aircraft detection before radar.
5. Another Statue of King Saint Stephen
This statue is located on Gellert Hill overlooking the Danube River at the foot of the Liberty Bridge, which makes for a beautiful photo opportunity. It is about a 30-minute walk from the Castle to this statue.
King Saint Stephen looks much less impressive here than in the statue near Fisherman’s Bastion.
On the Buda Side – District II – Rose Hill and Watertown
District II is a large district north of Districts I and XII. It comprises several neighborhoods, including Watertown and Rose Hill.
6. The Tomb of Gül Baba
One day Steve and I decided to explore a prestigious and wealthy area of Budapest called Rose Hill (Rózsadomb). We must have been in the wrong section because we didn’t see much, but on the way back to the Danube River we stumbled upon the Tomb of Gül Baba.
Gül Baba was an Ottoman Dervish from the 16th century. He is honored for his piety and talent as a poet.
The tomb of Gül Baba is the northernmost Islamic pilgrimage site in the world. While the tomb itself may not be of much interest to non-Muslims, the patio and terraced garden are peaceful and beautifully kept.
You will find the tomb at Mecset u. 14. You can also approach the grounds via Gül Baba utca, the steepest street in Budapest.
On the Buda Side – District XII – Highlands
This district is a little bit away from the rest of the Budapest attractions, but in my opinion, well worth the trip. It includes Janos Hill, the highest point in Budapest.
7. The Zugliget Chairlift
You can reach Janos Hill (János-hegy) via a 15-minute long chairlift ride. The Zugliget Chairlift (Zugligeti Libegő) starts in the Zugliget neighborhood. You can take bus 291 to reach the chairlift entrance. Tickets are sold from machines at the entrance.
Once you get to the top, you will be well placed to visit Elizabeth Tower and the Children’s Railway (more on both below). There are also several hiking trails in the hills.
The chairlift entrance is at Zugligeti út 97.
8. The Children’s Railway
The Childrens’ Railway (Gyermekvasút) is a railway run almost entirely by children. Only the driver and the supervisors are adults. The age of the students runs from 10 to 14 years old. They must be excellent students to be chosen for this honor.
The Children’s Railway is a narrow-gauge railway that travels through the Buda Hills for over 7 miles. It is the longest child-run railway in the world.
I was surprised to learn that there are many still functioning children’s railways in Russia and other ex-Soviet states and some Eastern European countries. They are remnants of the U.S.S.R., where they were used to train children in the transportation industry and instill the political ideology.
You can buy your tickets on the train, but it is best to have exact change. We did not, so the train had to go to the next station where we were able to buy tickets.
It was difficult to find the railroad from the area at the top of the chairlift. Look for signs saying Gyermekvasút or ask a friendly local.
9. The Elizabeth Lookout Tower
The delightful multi-tiered Elizabeth Lookout Tower (Erzsébet-kilátó) sits atop Janos Hill. The tower was built in 1910 and rebuilt in the early 2000s. It was named in honor of the much-beloved Queen Elisabeth of Hungary (1837-1898) because she enjoyed visiting the area. You can read about her tragic life here.
Once you get off the chairlift on Janos Hill, you can see the tower to your right. It is a short uphill walk to reach it.
On the Pest Side – District V – Downtown
District V sits along the Danube River on the Pest side opposite District I. The Hungarian Parliament Building is in this district.
10. Bullet Hole Markers
If you head inland from the Hungarian Parliament Building, you can see the Ministry of Agriculture Building. On it, you can see an unusual memorial. It is one of many memorials throughout the city that commemorate the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
This memorial honors one of the events of that Revolution. On October 25th, peaceful protesters gathered in Kossuth Square (Kossuth Tér). Hungarian and Soviet troops opened fire on protesters, and many fled among the columns of the Ministry of Agriculture Building.
The event is now known as Bloody Thursday. Dozens of markers show where bullets fired at the protesters hit the walls. The exact number of dead is not known, with estimates from 20 to 1,000.
The Ministry of Agriculture is at Kossuth Lajos tér 11.
11. U.S. Presidents in Liberty Square
District V also includes Liberty Square (Szabadság tér), a public area with statues dedicated to freedom and liberty. You may be surprised to find statues of two U.S. presidents: Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.
The Reagan statue was erected in 2011 to recognize his efforts to help end the Cold War and Russia’s control over the country.
The Bush statue was unveiled in 2020 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe. Bush visited Budapest in 1989. Here is more information about that visit, including a video of Bush’s speech to the Hungarian people.
As a side note: The U.S. Embassy sits on the eastern side of Liberty Square. The Embassy is surrounded by a high fence and heavily guarded. Quite frankly, I think it looks like a minimum-security prison. This is quite a contrast to the welcoming look of the numerous embassies that line Andrassy Avenue.
12. Two Porcelain Statues in Jozsef Nador Square
Jozsef Nador Square (József Nádor tér) was reconstructed in 2018. As part of this project, two large porcelain statues were added. The first is the Tree of Life by the Herend Porcelain Manufacturer. The second is Hercules Fountain by the Zsolnay Porcelain Manufacturer. A statue of the square’s namesake stands between the two.
I am amazed that these statues remain undamaged. This is a testament to the respect Hungarians appear to have for their public places.
Jozsef Nador was a member of the House of Habsburg, which ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. He served as Palatine (a high-level official attached to an imperial or royal court in Europe) to Hungary and is sometimes referred to as the most “Hungarian of the Habsburgs” because of his support of economic reforms, public works, and construction projects that benefitted Hungary.
Jozsef Nador Square is several blocks south of Liberty Square.
13. Elizabeth Square
It seems like there is always something going on in Elizabeth Square (Erzsébet tér). The square is easy to spot because it’s the home of the Budapest Eye. There are also statues, green spaces, a small skateboard park, and a playground. There are several bars and restaurants and a large reflecting pool along one side.
This square is two blocks east of Jozsef Nador Square.
On the Pest Side – District VI – Terézváros
District VI begins east of Elizabeth Square and ends at City Park. Its main street is the famed Andrassy Avenue. All of these quick stops can be done on a stroll up (or down) Andrassy.
14. The Millennium Underground Railway
The Millennium Underground Railway (Kisföldalatti) is also known as Metro Line 1. It is the second-oldest subway on the European Continent and has operated continually since it opened in 1896.
It is a short straight run consisting of only 11 stops. It runs under Andrássy Avenue. If you take a ride on this line, be sure to go up and check out the elegant Andrássy Avenue.
If you are near Elizabeth Square you can find an entrance to Metro Line 1 at Deák Ferenc square. Or you can jump on at one of the other stops. Here is some information about Line 1 and a handy map.
15. Művész Kávéház
If you are exploring along Andrassy Avenue and need a break, you can do worse than the Művész Kávéház. The name translates to Artist Café. Be warned, though, the tables are tiny.
There are many elegant old-world coffee houses in Budapest, as you can see from this article. We have only visited this one since we are not big coffee house people. However, once things get back to normal, we plan on visiting several others, including the New York Palace and Parisi Passage, to bask in their splendor.
Visit this beautiful cafe at Andrássy út 29.
16. The Iron Curtain Monument
If you stroll down Andrassy Avenue or visit the Terror House Museum (also on Andrassy Avenue), you will see the Iron Curtain Monument. It serves as a poignant reminder of the restrictions suffered by many Europeans under Soviet rule.
The monument and the Berlin Wall segment are at Andrássy út 60.
17. A Segment of the Berlin Wall
You can also see a segment of the Berlin Wall in front of the Terror House Museum.
On the Pest Side – District VIII – Palace District
18. The Szabo Ervin Library
The Szabó Ervin Library (Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár) isn’t your average library. As a visitor, you can pay a small fee to enjoy the neo-baroque décor. As you move through the rooms, you will walk among students who are more focused on their work than the beauty around them.
The building, called The Wenckheim Palace, was a part-time home for Count Frigyes Wenckheim and his family. Upon his death in 1927, his family sold the palace to the government, which made it part of the public library system.
Visit the library at Szabó Ervin tér 1.
On the Pest Side – District XIV -Zugló
At the Northern end of Andrassy Avenue, you will come upon Heroes’ Square and City Park. The park is home to the Vajdahunyad Castle. The zoo is nearby. In addition to marveling at the facades of the castle, here are two fun things to do:
19. A Statue of Anonymous
Anonymous was the unknown chronicler at the court of King Bela III (1148-1196). Anonymous is believed to have written the history of the early Hungarians. Writers often stroke his pen for inspiration.
You can see this statue in City Park (Városliget) near Vajdahunyad Castle. There is a smaller one in the Hungarian National Gallery, the art museum in Buda Castle.
20. Playground in City Park
If you are traveling with children, you can become their hero by taking them to the 140,000 sq. ft. (13,000 sq.m.) playground in City Park (Városliget). The park opened in the fall of 2019 and features 50 pieces of equipment for children of all ages and abilities. It makes you want to be a kid again.
The Main Playground is situated in the southeastern part of the Városliget, in an area near the intersection of Dózsa György Road and Ajtósi Dürer Row
Quick Tips for Navigating Budapest
Building numbers come after the street name.
The postal code (think zip code) consists of 4 digits. The middle two identify the district. So postal code 1094 is in district 9.
Street signs are easy to find and most have the district number on them. They are on the buildings near the street corners.
Even More to See and Do in Budapest
One of our favorite things to do in any city is walk for hours, taking in the beauty and uniqueness of the place. The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos will give you a taste of the elegance of this city.
Many years ago, I was picking out pastries in a bakery in Paris with my older daughter Stephanie. When the clerk pointed to a pastry, I confidently replied, “por favor.” My daughter quietly said, “Mom, that’s Spanish.”
Looking back, I have to wonder if this error was a harbinger of things to come?
Too Many Countries, Too Many Languages
Steve and I spent eight months in Europe in 2018. During that time, we visited seven countries, and each one had a different language. Even if we wanted to, there was no way we could learn the languages of all these countries in such a short time.
We did the next best thing. We learned the basics: hello, please, thank you, goodbye. This, along with Google Translate and pantomime, was enough for us to function.
We mainly visited large cities, and many of the people we interacted with spoke English. This certainly made our lives easier, but it also meant that we did not have to work very hard at learning the local language. In the words of the TV character Adrian Monk, “It’s a blessing and a curse.”
The table below shows the percent of people who were proficient in English in 2019 in the counties we visited. The data is from Statista.
Portuguese is Not Gender Neutral
You probably know that some languages assign genders to their words. Portuguese is one of those. So when I learned that the word for thank you is obrigada (feminine) or obrigado (masculine), I assumed that the gender I used would be based on to whom I was speaking.
I was wrong. Unfortunately, we were several weeks into our travels around Portugal when I learned this. Until then, I had been saying obrigado to men. A few of them replied with strange looks. But one man’s reaction really stuck with me. His smile was bordering on a laugh.
It wasn’t until our third week in Portugal that somebody set me straight. We purchased tickets at a museum, and I confidently responded with obrigado because he was male. The clerk politely told me that as a woman, I should always say obrigada. I thanked him for letting me know.
If you are wondering if you should correct a person who makes a mistake while speaking a language that is obviously not their native language, my vote is yes. If you do it politely, it will most likely be appreciated. I was certainly grateful to that clerk.
You might think that people who spent ten months in Spanish-speaking countries, as Steve and I did in 2019, would become quite adept at speaking Spanish. That wasn’t the case for us. We didn’t meet as many natives who spoke English as we had in Europe. Instead, we relied on Google Translate and therefore failed to pick up more than the basics.
While we were in Latin America, I spent time on Rosetta Stone lessons. Now that I have plenty of time on my hands because of the pandemic, I am continuing to learn Spanish using Duolingo. Both programs have helped me recognize written words, but speaking and listening are still a long way off.
Why Don’t You Understand Me?
Based on my limited experience with foreign languages, I noticed a distinct difference between the way English speakers (at least those from the U.S.) act when someone doesn’t understand us and how people in Latin America act when the listener does not understand.
In Latin America, we noticed that if we spoke a few words of Spanish the listener would assume we spoke Spanish well enough to converse. I sat through more than a few awkward bus rides where my seatmate would go on and on in Spanish. Saying “No hablo Espanol” usually had no effect. All I could do was smile, nod, and try not to look too dim-witted.
It seems as if Spanish speakers believe if they just keep speaking in Spanish, the listener will suddenly realize he understands Spanish perfectly well.
On the other hand, we English speakers tend to repeat a word or phrase several times, often getting a little louder each time. Surely if the person we are speaking to would just listen, he would understand what we are saying.
The Other Izquierda
The opposite of the above occurred in Arequipa, Peru. Steve and I were in a taxi heading to the pick-up point for the next leg of our Peru Hop bus tour. Our driver did not have a GPS map and did not know exactly where we wanted to go. My map showed our destination, which was a few streets to the left.
Coincidently, I had just learned the Spanish words for left and right over the previous few days. So I said izquierda, the feminine version of left. He kept driving straight and looking confused. I repeated the word izquierda several times to no avail (being careful not to get louder each time). Eventually, he managed to get the point and headed in the general direction we needed to go.
I relayed this story to a group of people. Some of them suggested that there may have been a regional difference in the word for left. That may be, but a Google search shows izquierda and izquiedo as the only Spanish words for left.
It is very frustrating when you get the nerve to speak a foreign language to a native speaker, believe you are using the right words and pronouncing them well, and you get nothing.
Letters May Not Sound the Way You Expect
One of the things we enjoy eating in Budapest is…wait for it…Subway subs. Yes, I know they are not Hungarian. And quite frankly, I never ate them in the U.S. But here, they seem fresher and remind us of home. That leads me to my next language error.
I thought I would impress the friendly staff at Subway if I ordered my sub in Hungarian. Since I wanted a ham sub, it seemed easy enough. The word for ham is sonka. I could handle that.
My plan failed miserably. The woman behind the counter had no idea what I was saying, so I reverted to English. Fortunately, she understood that very well.
I later found out that the letter s is pronounced like sh. I should have asked for shonka. So when you are heading to the capital of Hungary, you are going to Budapest. Once you arrive, you are in Budapesht.
That’s One Interesting Alphabet
The Hungarian Alphabet can be intimidating as it has 44 letters and 13 vowels. But it is a phonetic language, so once you learn each letter’s pronunciation, you can pronounce any Hungarian word.
Several Hungarian letters have more than one character! CS, DZ, DZS, GY, LY, NY, TY, SZ, and ZS are all letters in the Hungarian alphabet.
But We’re Always Learning
Steve and I were exploring the Cinkota Cemetery when Steve pointed out the word család on a tombstone. He commented on how it must have been a large family since it was on so many grave markers. We continued to explore, saying “C Salad Family” each time we saw it. After a while, it seemed like there were way too many családs, so I looked it up. It means family and is pronounced Chaw lad because the letter CS is pronounced like CH in English. See what I mean?
Learning that word led to one of my prouder foreign language moments. When we finished at the Cinkota Cemetery, we went to the Old Cinkota Cemetery. It is small and hard to find. The remaining grave markers are covered with vegetation.
As we were leaving the cemetery, we saw a man walking towards us from the church next door. He asked us something in Hungarian. Surprisingly I was able to pick up one word in his question: család. He was asking if we were looking for family in the cemetery. I was so proud that I could understand his question.
I told him we weren’t. Relying on gestures, he invited Steve and me into the church. We had a lovely visit despite the language barrier. It turned out he is the current pastor, as he conveyed to us by pointing to his name at the top of a long list of pastors. Before we left, he gifted us with two hand-embroidered bags.
Let’s Throw in Another Language
Shopping in a place where you don’t know the language adds time and stress to your trip. It can also lead to mistakes. For that reason, we make sure we take time all the time we need to pick out our purchases. What we didn’t expect in Hungary was to have to translate from German.
One popular drug chain in Budapest is D.M. This is a German company that sells cosmetics, health care items, and household products. So when you shop there, you may be translating from Hungarian or German. Good grief.
How Did He Know That Word?
Steve and I were at a pharmacy while he picked up some medication. Steve noticed the young man at the next window was listening to his conversation. In English, the clerk asked Steve if he knew how to use the medication. Being the smart-ass he is, he replied, “yeah, as a suppository.” The guy at the next window chuckled.
That store did not have the pills Steve needed. As we left the store, the young man stopped us and asked if he could help us find a store that carries them. I was surprised to learn that he was a Hungarian native and was awed that he knew the word suppository.
It Got the Job Done
Perhaps the most humorous language experience I had was in Bucharest, Romania. Steve and I were spending the day at one of our favorite places, Therme Bucuresti. One of the many services they offered was hairstyling, so while Steve was relaxing in the mineral baths, I got my haircut. I wanted to find out how much it would cost for Steve to get his cut. My cell phone was safely tucked away in my locker, so I couldn’t use Google Translate.
I tried several ways to get the question across. The woman helping me was patient but did not understand what I was asking. I finally resorted to pantomime.
I made a fist and held it in front of my crotch. She immediately understood what I was asking, and I got the price.
Steve got a nice trim. I got a funny story.
Sometimes other people mess up. We have seen more than a few poor translations in museums. Despite the less-than-ideal translations, we always appreciate when English translations are available.
This sign on a travel agency in Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos Islands always makes me laugh.
My Favorite Foreign Word
Romanian was one of the easier languages for Steve and me to decipher because it is a Romance language that has a lot in common with languages such as French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. There was one word we repeatedly heard in Bucharest: Plăcere (pronounced pleasz air ae). While it is not the official word for thank you, it was used that way.
Be sure to share some of your language blunders and victories in the comments section below. And check out our post, “Don’t Be Afraid of Multilingualism,” in which I discuss why I think Americans should rethink their aversion to incorporating foreign languages into everyday life.
As Steve and I prepared to travel full-time, we knew that we would make mistakes. Fortunately, we have been able to keep them to a minimum, partly due to luck, partly due to the graciousness of others, and partly because we spent more than half a year under lockdown.
Here are the biggest travel mistakes and near-misses we had during our first three years of full-time travel.
All money is in U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated.
The Schengen What?
We weren’t prepared for our first near-miss to happen before we even left the U.S. We only had three months to go before we set out for our travels when we first heard of the Schengen Area. We discovered that we were only allowed to spend 90 days in this group of 26 countries and would then have to leave the Schengen Area for at least 90 days.
Cue the cold sweats. We had already booked three months’ worth of nonrefundable stays in Barcelona and Paris. I broke out the calendar and started counting the days. Then I let out a huge sigh of relief. We had booked a total of 89 days!
The fact that we had procrastinated in deciding on our destination after Paris saved us. We had been considering Prague. If we had booked a month-long stay there or anywhere else in the Schengen Area through Airbnb, we would have lost that money.
Stay on the Bus
We started our journey on a Transatlantic cruise from Florida to Barcelona. One of our ports-of-call was Funchal, Portugal. We were looking forward to riding the famous wicker toboggans there. Here is a video of that exhilarating experience.
Being new to foreign travel, we decided to buy hop-on-hop-off tickets through the cruise company even though it was more expensive than doing it on our own.
We got on the bus, and at the second stop, we saw the sign for the gondola leading to the toboggans, so we hopped off the bus.
We marveled at the scenery as we rode the gondola up the mountain and had a thrilling toboggan ride. Then we spent close to an hour painstakingly making our way down a very steep hill while looking for another hop-on-hop-off bus stop. We never found one, but at least we got back to our ship.
We ended up spending $80 to go two stops on the bus.
They Weren’t Kidding About Barcelona
When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY!
Just a week into our stay in Barcelona, Steve was pickpocketed on a metro car. He thought his wallet and passport would be safe in his front pants pocket. It was not.
This mistake was more costly in time and frustration than in money. It involved treks to three police stations and a trip to the U.S. Consulate. You can read all the juicy details in “Pickpocketed in Barcelona” and get some helpful hints, so you don’t become a victim.
The thieves got away with Steve’s passport, several bank cards, and 40 Euro (about $48). Luckily Steve’s passport was found, which saved us the $145 replacement fee. Our bank cards were replaced within a few days, and our credit card company denied the $900 shoe purchase the thieves attempted.
By the second month of our travels, we thought we had SIM cards all figured out. After getting off the plane in Paris, we headed to the post office, which was in the airport, and spent 40 Euros (about $48) on 2 SIM cards. The man who helped us did not speak English, and we do not speak French. Even so, we managed to get our SIM cards installed.
We soon discovered that they were only good for making calls and didn’t include data. We replaced them with less expensive cards that had everything we needed. Even though we never used them, we carried them around for several months until we finally threw them away.
Read the Train Ticket (Read it Well)
The most costly mistake in our first year of travel involved the Eurostar train from Paris to London. We were heading to London with our daughter Laura and her friend. I had arranged for all of us to get there via the Chunnel.
Our experience with train travel was limited to two short journeys within France. In both cases, we showed up at the station about fifteen minutes before our train was scheduled to leave. There were no security checks, and no one asked to see our tickets. These two experiences made us lackadaisical about the train trip to London.
Armed with our Chunnel tickets, the four of us traveled from Strasbourg to Paris without any problem. We arrived at the Paris station with an hour and a half to spare before our train to London would leave, so we went out for a delicious breakfast. We arrived back at the train station to find that we had missed the check-in time for our journey and we would have to book a later one. The cost was $230.
I had neglected to read the fine print on the tickets that clearly stated the check-in cutoff time. As one lady pointed out, the train was entering a different country so, the requirements were similar to airline travel.
Actually, I believe the difference was that we were leaving the Schengen Area, which allows for movement among the 26 Schengen countries without border checks. The United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen Area.
Luckily the trains from Paris to London run every hour, so it didn’t set us back too much time-wise, but our wallet sure wasn’t happy. In addition to reading the ticket, in the future, we will check in as soon as possible and then eat.
A Near-Miss with Booking.com
We were able to avoid another costly mistake thanks to the goodwill of Booking.com. We had booked an Airbnb for a one-month stay in Strasbourg, France. The host canceled the reservation only eleven days before we were due to arrive.
It was the height of the tourist season, and we were not having any luck finding a place to stay for a whole month. We were able to piece together three hotels through Booking.com that would provide housing for a month. Then we found an Airbnb that was available for the month. We canceled two of the hotel reservations in time but missed the third by one day. This would have been our most costly mistake at $934.
We requested that they waive the fee, saying we had overbooked. We were so thankful when we woke up the next morning to find that Booking.com had waived the penalty.
Know the Paris Metro Rules
Our daughter Laura and her friend visited us in Strasbourg and then traveled with us to London. From there, they spent another week in Dublin and Paris. During their trip to the Paris airport to fly home, they learned that if you travel enough, something will trip you up.
They chose to take the Metro from their hostel to the airport. The Metro Police stopped them and told them they did not have the proper tickets for the zone they were in. The cost of this innocent mistake was $80 each.
A word of warning for Paris travelers: the Paris Metro Police are vigilant. Be sure you keep your ticket on you for the entire journey and understand the zones and related fares.
We Can Tell Time, Really
All the above mistakes happened before and during our first year of travel. In 2019, our second year of travel, we had only one costly mistake. To this day, we aren’t sure how it happened.
Steve and I had made reservations to fly from Buenos Aires to Cordoba. As always, we both checked the details before we finalized our purchase. The day before our flight, I was reviewing all our travel details when I did a double-take. Our flight wasn’t at 9 a.m., it was at 9 p.m!
We could have taken that flight, but that would have meant landing in a new city close to midnight. And we would have had to spend a whole day in Buenos Aires with all our luggage and nowhere to stay.
Changing the flight left us $175 poorer. To add insult to injury, the change fee was $60 higher than the original cost of the flight.
It’s All Worth It
Let’s face it, mistakes happen. That’s life. Why would travel life be any different? Considering that we’ve traveled to 42 cities in the past three years, I think we did a pretty good job. We made all our flights, only missed one train reservation, always had a place to stay in advance, and never went hungry. We also had luck on our side.
Steve and I would love to hear about mistakes you have made while traveling. Come on; I’m sure you have a few. 😀
Stay safe and healthy, Linda
Featured image by Estee Janssens on Unsplash.com
This post was originally published on April 20, 2019.
If you enjoy hiking and love animals, Cuenca, Ecuador, has the perfect place for you. It’s the Amaru Bioparque. You can spend hours there, working your way up and down the side of a mountain as you visit hundreds of species of animals.
Steve and I were delighted with Amaru Bioparque when we visited Cuenca in 2019. We spent a total of eight hours there over two days. We have many fond memories of our ten months in Latin America, and this was among our favorites. You can read about them in Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences.
What is Amaru Bioparque?
It is a sanctuary for animals that have been rescued and, despite rehabilitation, cannot be returned to the wild. At Amaru, these animals can live out their lives in a natural environment.
Amaru receives about 450 animals every year. They come from illegal hunting, illegal trafficking of species, seizures by the National Police, and donations by civilians. The large number of animals received at Amaru is because it is the only wildlife clinic in the south of the country.
From the Amaru Bioparque website:
“We are an environmental zoological organization that offers a unique experience with the animals and plants that are a part of Ecuador´s natural and cultural richness. We promote and run education, communication, recreation, and research programs to foster the conservation of Ecuador’s biodiversity.”
The setting is rustic. You will hike over 2 km of dirt paths carved into the side of a mountain as you learn about the animals and their habitats. You will traverse hills and less-than-ideal steps cut into the dirt. Sturdy shoes are a must.
There are many signs throughout the park with information about the animals and their native environments. When we visited, most of the signs were in Spanish, but a few had English translations. The lack of English wasn’t a problem. We could understand quite a bit, and when we couldn’t, we used Google Translate.
Arriving at Amaru
Amaru is located about 5 miles (7 km) from the historic center of Cuenca. It is easy to get to the park via car or taxi. The round trip cost for taxis was US$12.00 in 2019. When you are finished with your visit, the ticket booth attendant can arrange a taxi for you.
You can also get near the park by bus, but you will have quite an uphill walk before you reach the entrance. I recommend a taxi over a bus.
You will probably want to take a few minutes to enjoy the views of the city as you enter the park.
When you arrive, you should receive a map. Pay attention to it. It shows the path through the park. On our first visit, Steve and I failed to do this. After about an hour and a half, we looked at the map and realized that we were only a quarter of the way through. Since it was late afternoon by that time, we backtracked our way to the entrance.
We returned two weeks later so we could see the rest of the park. Now older and wiser, we arrived early in the morning and paid more attention to the map.
You cannot take food, pets, or large bags into the park. I was allowed to take my backpack because it was small, but it had to be inspected first. There is a place about halfway along the trail where you can buy drinks and snacks. There are some restrooms as well.
Some of the Animals You Will See
One of the first animals you will encounter is the Andean or Spectacled Bear. The six Andean Bears that currently live in Amaru have a habitat that is greater than 37,000 sq. ft. (3,500 sq. meters). They are solitary animals. We only saw one each time we visited.
White Capuchin Monkey
You can see these adorable monkeys (the park has four) traveling through wire tubes set among the trees. There is no guarantee you won’t get an unwanted shower.
Delightful squirrel monkeys roam free in the park. As you might expect, they love to hang around the restaurant area, but I didn’t see them bothering anyone.
The park has five capybaras, the largest rodent in the world. I always love seeing them.
This cuchucho is a native to Lain America and is not threatened.
This little cutie is a Latin American native and the smallest feline in Ecuador.
As we worked our way through the park, we saw many familiar animals and many we had never heard of. But the most unexpected was the African Lion. After all, this is a park dedicated to preserving Ecuadorian biodiversity.
It turns out that Amaru currently has nine African Lions. Here is the story of two of them.
Birds of the Tropical Aviary
The tropical aviary was a delight, with colorful, inquisitive birds everywhere. The birds are free within the aviary, and it was fun to watch the White-Throated Toucan hop along a fence.
He may not be pretty, but this native of the Andes provides a useful service as a scavenger. The Andean Condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world. His wingspan can reach over 10 ft (3.3 m). The condor is the national bird of Ecuador and even graces its flag. Amaru has two Andean Condors, a male and a female.
This bird of prey is a native of Ecuador and lives in parts of the Andes Mountains.
African Clawed Frog or Ghost Frog
These are natives of Africa who were brought to Ecuador as pets. I loved watching them float gracefully, as you can see in this video:
These bullfrogs are native to North America and are an invasive species in Ecuador.
Emerald Tree Boa
Snakes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this boa is non-poisonous and looks pretty chill.
I hope you enjoyed meeting just a few of the many species of animals that call Amaru Bioparque home.
The Amaru Bioparque website has a lot of information about the animals in its care. The site has an option for English, but it didn’t work on all the pages. I found it best to Google “Amaru Bioparque” and choose “Translate This Page” so you get every page in English.
As of this writing, the park appears to be open. It is open every day except Christmas day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. As always, you should verify this information before visiting.
A visit to Amaru is a real bargain. It costs US$ 6.00 for an adult. There are discounts for people under 18 and over 65. The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador.
In addition to sturdy shoes or boots, be sure to have sunblock and a hat or umbrella (it is Ecuador, after all).
The park is not wheelchair accessible or stroller friendly.
It is best to avoid visiting for a few days after a heavy rain. The paths can become slippery.
The Amaru website suggests you allow 2 hours for your visit. Other articles recommend 4-6 hours. I don’t think 2 hours is anywhere near long enough. We visited twice and spent a total of 8 hours.
The website lists several educational demonstrations that take place on weekends and holidays. I cannot comment on them since both our visits were on weekdays. Also, I would assume that the demonstrations are in Spanish.
A Volunteer Opportunity
If Amaru is your type of place, you may want to look into volunteering there. They require a minimum two-week commitment. Wouldn’t that be a fulfilling experience? You can find information about volunteering on the website under Support Us.
Have you been to Amaru Bioparque? We’d love to hear what you thought about it in the comments below.
What’s the biggest challenge of nomad life? The language barrier? Missing family and friends back home? Boring footwear? Yes, yes, and yes. But perhaps the biggest challenge is laundry.
As a full-time traveler, I have dealt with possessed washers, a myriad of drying setups, and excess laundry soap issues.
I have learned that clothes dryers are not common outside of the U.S. You can read about clothes drying differences in this article by Real Simple.
But I have not learned how to determine the correct amount of detergent for each machine, so I usually end up running them through a second time without detergent.
Here is a recap of our laundry experiences in our first three years of full-time travel. Future nomads, you’ve been warned.
We spent most of 2018 in Europe, and Barcelona was the first city we visited. As we checked out our apartment, Steve said, “Isn’t there supposed to be a washing machine?”
We didn’t see one in the apartment, so I sent a message to our Airbnb hosts. They replied, “the washing machine is in (sic) the roof.” A quick check told us that yes, it was indeed “in the roof.”
Our hosts stopped by to show us how it worked, and it seemed simple enough. But that washer had it in for me. I would press button after button, but it wouldn’t start. However, if I unplugged it and plugged it back in, we were good to go.
Our second city was Paris. The city of lights and high prices. Our apartment was too tiny for a washing machine, so we used the laundromat down the street. I know it was Paris, but $80 to do laundry for one month still seems expensive to me.
These first two experiences taught us to make sure that any apartment we rent not only has a washer but that it is inside the apartment.
The downside of nomad life is that you must constantly adapt. The upside is that you don’t have to deal with any inconvenience too long and, most importantly, you aren’t the one responsible when something breaks.
We were staying at a large building on the Black Sea coast in Byala, Bulgaria. It was after tourist season, and we had the entire building to ourselves (think The Shining without the snow). I started a load of laundry, and the washer immediately started leaking. And by leaking, I mean gushing. Suds quickly covered the kitchen. I shut it off, and we commenced cleanup.
Our host had the perfect solution. He told us to use the washer in the apartment next door. The door was unlocked, so we were able to walk right in and finish our laundry. Don’t you love it when things work out so easily?
Everything went well for the rest of the year until we got to Lisbon.
We spent two weeks on a sailboat, so we did not have a washer. No problem. There was a laundromat a short walk away. It was spotless and had brand new appliances. And we were the only ones there.
I confidently tossed a Tide Pod in each machine, threw the laundry in them, and sat down. Then I noticed a sign that said “Do not add soap, it is included” taped over the soap dispenser. Oops.
By the time we got to Latin America in 2019, we had the whole laundry thing down pretty well. All of our apartments had a washing machine. A few of them had a dryer. Those that didn’t had either a drying rack or a place to hang them outside, except in the Galápagos Islands.
Because the choice of apartments in our price range was slim and none of them included a washer, we figured we would go to a laundromat. But as we explored the town of Puerto Ayora, we didn’t see any laundromats. We did see several signs for lavanderias, places where your laundry is done for you.
I felt odd delivering a bag of dirty clothes to a stranger, which is funny since I am no stranger to dry cleaning. I was also concerned that we might not get our own clothes back. So I made a list of everything we dropped off.
I’m happy to report all of our clothes were returned to us clean and fresh at a cost of $8 per week. Now I want this service in every city.
Our regular readers will be familiar with our prolonged stay in Bansko, Bulgaria, in early 2020 because of Steve’s skiing accident. When he left the hospital, we moved to a holiday resort outside of town since it was the only place I could find where he could be brought in on a stretcher. You can read about those experiences in Hospitalized in Bulgaria and Bansko, Bulgaria, Not The Trip We’d Hoped For.
The resort provided a laundry service which consisted of filling one large bag with laundry for a set fee. If memory serves, it cost $US30 for one bag of laundry.
Because we have very few clothes, I didn’t think it would be worth the cost. I probably wouldn’t even fill half the bag. So frugal me decided to wash by hand.
It was a good thing Steve was bedridden since every available surface outside of the bedroom was covered in sopping wet clothes. I learned how effective towel warmers and radiators could be for drying.
Once we were able to move on from Bansko, we headed to Budapest. Our first Airbnb had a washer in the bathroom. Just a few minutes into the first cycle, it started to do a lively dance across the floor and proceeded to knock the toilet bowl to the side. Because why would anyone actually bolt the toilet to the floor?
Steve took a look and discovered that the transportation bolts had not been removed. Even after he removed them, it still jumped. Even after a plumber supposedly fixed it, it still jumped.
So I developed a routine. I would start the washer, set a timer, and run to the machine as each spin cycle started so that I could hold the machine in place.
As if that wasn’t fun enough, after I washed the first load of clothes, I looked for a place to dry them. I didn’t see a drying stand. There wasn’t a towel dryer in the bathroom. The shower curtain rod was too weak and too high to be of any help. I even looked on the interior balcony hoping to find a clothesline, but there was nothing. I messaged the host, and he delivered a drying stand the following day. To this day, I wonder where the guests that came before us dried their clothes.
After seven months in the Budapest apartment, we moved across town. We are still in this apartment riding out the pandemic.
I’m happy to report that the washer in the new apartment is well-behaved. No dancing! And it has a drying stand and a towel warmer. There was even a nearly full bottle of laundry soap with an adorable bear on the front. Everything was going well on the laundry front. Our clothes looked good. They smelled good. And they were really soft.
After several weeks the detergent bottle was approaching empty. I showed it to Steve so he could buy a new one. He then discovered that I had been “washing” our clothes in fabric conditioner. Oops.
No doubt, our laundry challenges will continue once we resume our travels. Laundry challenges are just one example of how full-time travel doesn’t mean full-time fun. But I am willing to put up with laundry frustrations if it means I can continue to explore this big, beautiful world.
In June 2019, we were planning our next stop after Quito, Ecuador, when a new name came up. Cuenca. We had never heard of it. We decided to give it a try because some of the places we have enjoyed the most are the ones we had never heard of. We are glad we did.
After spending four weeks in Quito, Cuenca was a relaxing change. It is far less crowded, with about 330,000 people compared to 1.6 million in Quito. It has a lot of traffic, but not nearly as much as Quito, and the pollution is not as bad, although the older blue buses spew a considerable amount of black exhaust.
Over four weeks, we fell in love with the architecture, history, and natural beauty of Cuenca. Below are twelve things you can do in Cuenca that will hopefully make you fall in love with the charming city.
A Little About Cuenca
*Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city after Guayaquil and the capital of Quito. *The official name of the city is Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca. Cuatros Rios translates to four rivers. A nod to the fact that the city has four rivers. *Cuenca is 292 miles (470 km) south of the capital of Quito. *You can fly there from Quito inexpensively in less than one hour (we paid $US50 per person in 2019). *Like Quito, Cuenca is nestled in the Andes Mountains and may require time to acclimate to the altitude of 8,400 feet (2,560 meters) if you are coming from a much lower elevation. *The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador and has been since 2000. It is so nice not to have to worry about exchange rates or getting local currency. *Very few of the people we met spoke English, but everyone was patient as we translated. *Cuenca is a walkable city, and taxis are abundant and affordable. *Cuenca is not far from the equator, so the temperatures don’t vary much throughout the year. Daily highs average 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius). Daily lows average 51 degrees Fahrenheit (~10 degrees Celsius). *Apartments generally don’t have heat. We ended up buying a small space heater. *There is also a small city in Spain named Cuenca.
Note: All money is in USD.
1. Hike Through Amaru Biopark
Amaru Biopark is much more than a zoo. This attraction is full of animals that have been rescued and, despite rehabilitation, cannot be returned to the wild.
You will hike over 2 km of dirt paths while learning about these animals. Be warned that the park is on the side of a mountain. You have to traverse hills and less-than-ideal steps cut into the dirt. Sturdy shoes are a must.
You should receive a map as you enter the park. Pay attention to it. It shows the path through the park. On our first visit, Steve and I failed to do this. After an hour and a half, we looked at the map and realized that we were only a quarter of the way through. Since it was late afternoon by that time, we backtracked our way to the entrance. We returned another day, and between our two visits we spent a total of eight hours in the park. There is so much to see.
Here are just a few of the many animals we enjoyed:
In addition to the Capuchin Monkeys frolicking above you, Squirrel Monkeys roam free in the park.
At the edge of the old town, you will see two large grey, modern-looking buildings. One is the Banco Central Del Ecuador, and the other is the Museo Pumapungo (boy, is that fun to say).
Museo Pumapungo consists of a new and beautiful building filled with artifacts and displays highlighting Ecuador’s geographic regions. There are several things to see behind the museum, too, including the ruins of an Incan military post, a small botanical garden, and a bird rescue center.
Beware, there is no photography allowed in the museum. When we visited, most of the plaques were only in Spanish. Even though we have a translator on our phones, we did not feel comfortable using it since it would have looked like we were taking pictures.
For our second visit, we hired a guide (independent of the museum) who explained what we were looking at. We learned a lot in that two hours, and it was well worth the $35. It was interesting that the one section that was in English was about the indigenous Shuar and their head-shrinking practices and beliefs.
The ruins were underwhelming since, in the past, they were cannibalized by locals who took the stones to use as building material. But don’t skip this part. In addition to the botanical garden and aviary, on most days there is a herd of llamas lazily eating the grass. They are used to being photographed by the visitors.
Did you know that despite their name, Panama hats are not from Panama? They are from Ecuador. And Cuenca is one of the largest producers.
You can learn a lot about the history and production of Panama hats during a tour of the Homer Ortega Hat Factory.
And yes, I know, learning about hat making isn’t high on your bucket list. But the tour was interesting, and they have a killer showroom where you can pick out your very own Panama hat.
Panama Hat Fast Facts
*The hats are made of a straw called toquilla. *The process of making the hats is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. *The name “Panama hat” came about because Americans traveling through the Panama Canal to California during the Gold Rush often wore them. *It was reinforced when President Teddy Roosevelt posed at the Panama Canal in 1906 while wearing one of the hats. *The quality and price of a hat depend on the fineness of the weave and the intricacy of the pattern. *The finest hats can take up to eight months to weave.
4. Marvel at the New Cathedral (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception)
You can spot the three blue and white domes of the New Cathedral from many places in the city. The cathedral’s formal name is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción). It is referred to as the New Cathedral because it is only a little over a century old. Construction on it began in 1885 and was completed in 1967.
This is one of the largest cathedrals in Latin America, but it doesn’t have any bells. That is because there were supposed to be two towers on the cathedral. Because of structural issues, it was determined that the building could not support these towers, so they were never built. You can take the spiral stairs up to the roof for a small fee.
5. Stroll Along the Tomebamba River (Rio Tomebamba)
I’ll be the first to admit when I read a travel blog, and it says “stroll through (insert area here)” or “relax at (insert name of café here),” it feels like a cop-out.
However, I will make an exception for the pedestrian path that runs along the Tomebamba River in Cuenca. It holds a special place in my heart because we walked part of it many times to get from our apartment near Museo Pumapungo to the old town.
The section we walked starts on the north side of the river bank west of Av. Huayna-Capac. If you continue, you will eventually see stairways leading to a higher level. Take one of these to reach the Historic Center.
There are many other places you can stroll along the river, including in Paradise Park (El Paraíso Park), and there are three other rivers to explore as well.
There seem to be two choices for dining out in Cuenca. You can go the inexpensive route, a small plain restaurant with traditional food at unbelievably low prices. Breakfast with juice and coffee is $2.50. Lunches are priced as low as $3.50 for soup, main dish, and drink. You will not get much ambiance at these restaurants. The second option is to go to a restaurant with ambiance. These cost more but are still reasonable by U.S. standards.
We visited one restaurant that stood head and shoulders above the rest:
On our second to last night in Cuenca, we wanted to try somewhere new. We decided on Capitan, which was listed as the 5th best restaurant in Cuenca on Trip Advisor (and is #3 as of this writing).
We were underwhelmed when we arrived. The restaurant had four tables and could seat 16 people total. We considered looking for something else, but we were hungry, so we decided to stay.
And we were glad we did. This was one of the best meals we had during the three months we spent in Ecuador. It started with soft, aromatic garlic bread with an incredible garlicky mayo-like spread that I could have eaten for hours.
Next was a delectable shrimp ceviche, followed by sea bass (with crab meat for Steve, spinach for me). Add a Coke and three small glasses of wine, and the total with tip was $74.
This meal was so enjoyable that we had an encore the next night. I wish we had discovered this gem at the beginning of our stay.
As good as the food is, it was not the best thing about this restaurant. The chef, who I also believe is the owner, was very welcoming and accommodating. He translated the menu for us and checked with us throughout our meal. You don’t usually see that in Latin America or Europe.
Capitan is at Tomás Ordóñez 6-76. The restaurant is small, so it is best to make reservations.
This restaurant also served fabulous ceviche along with other tasty dishes loaded with meat and vegetables. While the experience wasn’t as memorable as at Capitan, this is also an excellent place for a more upscale meal. It is along the Rio Tomebamba, not far from the Iglesias Santa Maria Del Vergel.
The cost for this visit was $60. We visited again with two friends from Korea. The total for four of us was only $80.
D’Galia is at Av 12 de Abril 1-23 y Las Herrerías.
I had read about Fondue Garden somewhere and thought it would be a nice change of pace. And it was. We enjoyed a few meals there, including cheese fondue and chocolate fondue.
When we arrived the first time, we were greeted by Bonnie, a co-owner from the U.K. She made us feel very welcome, and it was nice to hear some proper English.
The restaurant has a second-floor patio that overlooks the Rio Tomebamba and the bridge named Puente Juana de Oro.
Fondue Garden is more moderately priced than Capitan or D’Galia. Our lunch with beverages and a tip was $35.
It is located at Paseo 3 de Noviembre y Escalinatas.
Now that I’ve shared six things that made us fall in love with Cuenca and made your mouth water, here are six more things to do in and around the city.
7. Take a Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour (or Two)
We used City Tours. This company has two hop-on-hop-off tours, North of Cuenca and South of Cuenca. They did a much better job than some of the hop-on tours we’ve had. You can board the buses a Parque Calderon and buy your ticket onboard.
The Homero Panama Hats tour was part of this. I doubt we would have gone to a hat factory otherwise.
8. Enjoy Parque Calderon
This is not a large area, but it can be a great place to rest and grab some yummies.
9. Take a Trip to Cajas National Park (Parque Nacional Cajas)
We hired a guide I found on Trip Advisor to show us around. Be warned, if you go to the higher altitude areas it will be cold.
I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts lately. It is so easy to blame it on the pandemic, especially since we have been on restrictions since November*. But going back over the photos of cats and dogs we enjoyed seeing in 2020 made me think that there might be more to it. I need a pet fix. Badly.
As you may know, Steve and I spent 2020 in only two cities, Bansko, Bulgaria, and Budapest, Hungary. Neither place is teeming with stray cats and dogs, and that is a good thing. It is also reflected in how few photos I took of random animals during the year.
Nonetheless, I want to share those photos I have with you. Hopefully, they will bring a smile to your face as they do to mine. Here are the cats and dogs that touched our lives in 2020.
This dog steals the heart of everyone he meets at the Redenka Holiday Club in Razlog, Bulgaria. We stayed there for four weeks while Steve recovered from a broken pelvis. It was always a joy to see Bansko (named for the nearby town) whenever I left the main building.
This photo was taken one afternoon as Bansko and I played in the newly fallen snow.
These two cats were hanging out in Bansko. I sat on the bench, and they jumped up to sit next to me. It still amazes me how friendly stray cats in Europe can be.
We saw this cat and the next two at Cat Café Budapest. Our mistake was visiting mid-afternoon. As you can see, there wasn’t much kitty action.
There is a Japanese garden at the north end of Margaret Island. It is lovely to visit any time of year, but it was even more special with this sweet cat. Here he is getting some treats from a woman.
And here he is after he’s had his fill. Don’t you love the two pigeons in the background?
I met this sweet dog on an early morning solo walk. She had come to work at a café with her owner. While the owner went inside to work, the dog and I played catch. After she got the ball, she would run past me. She didn’t want to give it back, but she did eventually.
The manager of our first Budapest Airbnb had three affectionate Siamese cats. I was able to get a photo with one of them. He doesn’t look that affectionate in the photo, does he?
As I’ve written before, Steve and I are amazed at how well-behaved dogs in Europe and Latin America are. It is not uncommon to see them walking with their owners without leashes. Most do an outstanding job of ignoring other animals and people. For this reason, I don’t have many dog pictures.
This cutie is a great example of how well trained they are. He laid outside a store while he waited for his owner.
Cemeteries are a great place to see cats, although they do tend to shy away from people. We saw this one in the Farkasreti Cemetery in Budapest. I love how he looks like he’s grinning.
Hungary gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1989. As you might imagine, the city was full of statues honoring Soviet leaders and promoting the Soviet agenda. Once Hungary became independent, the statues were moved to a park to serve as a reminder of the past without glorifying it. The park is called Momento Park. I highly recommend a visit if you are in Budapest.
While we were there, this white cat came up to me. She was so loveable. As always, when a cat chooses you, you feel special.
She is obviously very comfortable living in Momento Park.
In October, we spent several days in Balatonfured, a charming town on Lake Balaton. This cat started to follow us as we were walking through town. She finally sat behind this fence, and we continued on without her.
We ran into this handsome cat in Bansko. He just loved Steve and You can see in the video.
Last but definitely not least is this cutie in Oberic, Croatia. I saw this on a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Adventurous Kate. She was gracious enough to let me share it with you.
Be sure to check out Kate’s website at adventurouskate.com. Her monthly recaps have become a must-read for me.
* Restrictions have been in place since Nov. 11, 2020. These include an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, masks required in public places, high school and university classes online, and take-out only in restaurants. On March 8, 2020, the restrictions were tightened due to drastically rising Covid cases and deaths. These restrictions added the closing of all non-essential businesses and primary schools for two weeks. That is what we are in the middle of as I write this.
One of the things I enjoy when exploring a city is discovering unique and colorful street art. The more eccentric, the better. Quite frankly, I think Budapest is lacking in street art (at least in the form of murals), but it makes up for it with a multitude of quirky novelties.
Even though street art is lacking in Budapest, here are a few that I found entertaining.
Fancy Face at Tereza Mexican Restaurant (District VI)
You can see this colorful face outside of the Tereza Mexican Restaurant on Nagymező utca, not far from Andrássy utca.
A Woman and a Monkey (District VII)
This woman and her monkey liven up the side of a large building on Kazinczy utca.
What a Door (District VII)
And how about this cool door on Kazinczy utca, which is just a few doors down from the Szimpla Kert ruin bar (discussed below)?
Llamas in a Tunnel (District XIV)
Even though it is common to see graffiti in tunnels, the graffiti we saw in a tunnel connecting two Mexikoi metro station stops was a pleasant surprise. In addition to these llamas, the entire tunnel was filled with drawings of cute animals.
Budapest has much less graffiti than many of the cities we visited. Public places seem to get a lot of respect.
As you would expect, Budapest has a wealth of historical statues and monuments. But they also have quite a few lighthearted ones. Many can be found in District V, which runs along the Danube River on the Pest side of the city. Here are a few of my favorite:
Columbo (District V)
At the north end of District V, not far from the Margaret Bridge, you can find a statue of the TV character Columbo. He stands in his rumpled clothes, scratching his head while holding a cigar. His dog, Dog, sits nearby.
Why is a statue of an American TV character in Budapest? The main reason is that Peter Falk, the actor who played Columbo, was of Hungarian heritage. It is also possible that he was related to a Hungarian political figure and writer named Miksa Falk. For this reason, the statue is at the end of Falk Miksa Street (Hungarians write names with the surname first).
This girl has a lovely place along the Danube River in which to play ball with her dog. They can be found south of the Chain Bridge.
Little Princess (District V)
Just north of the Girl With Her Dog statue sits the Little Princess. The sculptor, László Marton, was inspired to create this statue by his daughter because she loved to dress up as a princess. The princess is perched on a railing along the Danube River.
The Fat Policeman (District V)
You can meet this guy not far from St. Stephen’s Basilica. It is said that if you rub his belly, you will have good luck. Note his ceremonial headgear, which is called a Zrinyi Helmet.
Man on a ladder (District VIII)
While walking to the Kerepesi Cemetery one day, we came across this statue in Teleki Lászlo tér. I have not been able to find out what it signifies but found it charming nonetheless.
In addition to the statues mentioned above, the city is graced with quite a few mini statues. If you have eagle eyes, you may just spot some of them on your own. Since the statues are tiny (generally less than 1-foot square), we had to use this cheat sheet to find them.
The mini statues are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. Some of the statues were commissioned, but others were placed around the city Banksy style by Kolodko. Kolodko’s mini statues grace several other cities as well.
According to the list above, there are twenty statues in Budapest. Of course, that number could change at any time.
Checker-Eared Rabbit (District 1)
This little spy can be found near Buda Castle. It is based on a character from a Hungarian children’s TV show.
Kermit the Frog (District V)
You can see the always popular Kermit in Liberty Square. (Szabadság Square) not far from the U.S. Embassy.
Diver (District VII)
This statue of a diver was the first mini statue we saw in Budapest. That was before we knew of the other mini statues. It is outside of the elegant New York Palace Hotel and Café. It illustrates a legend that a Hungarian author named Ferenc Molnár tossed the café’s key into the river to prevent it from ever closing.
While the café is still around, it is currently closed because of the pandemic.
Tank (District I)
Some of the mini statues have historical meaning, like this tank. It commemorates the failed 1956 revolution against Soviet occupation. The tank is on the Buda side of the Danube across from Parliament. The gun is facing downward to signify the end of the revolution.
Dead Squirrel (District V)
This unfortunate creature lies just behind the Columbo statue on Falk Miksa Street. To illustrate how small the mini statues are, we passed by the Columbo statue many times, stopped to photograph it at least twice, and never spotted the squirrel.
Ruin bars are unique to Budapest. They were originally underground bars set up in abandoned or decaying buildings. Since District VII (the Jewish Quarter) had been neglected since WWII, this was the logical place to find these buildings.
The bars were decorated with cheap, free, or even discarded furniture and novelties, eclecticism in the extreme.
Ruin bars still exist but have lost their alternative vibe since they got on the radar of tourists. Even so, it is worth checking out one or two of them, even if you aren’t a drinker/partier.
The first, most famous, and yes, the funkiest ruin bar is Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden in English). In addition to the nighttime activities, they host a farmers’ market every Sunday. That is when we took the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.
Like two of the examples of street art (above), Szimpla Kert is on Kazinczy utca.
liebling (District VII)
We haven’t visited this place yet, but we definitely need to. It is a roof-top bar on Akácfa utca that is part of the Instant-Fogas Complex. This complex has seven clubs at one site.
Mazel Tov (District VII)
As of this writing, the only other ruin bar Steve and I visited was Mazel Tov, also on Akácfa utca. It is less zany, more classy than the above two bars. With an open feeling and some trees growing among the tables, it is a pleasant place for a light meal.
A Few More Funky Things
The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree (District V)
No, it isn’t a tree that was planted in the late pop star’s honor. The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree is a tree that stands in Elisabeth Square near the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. It is covered with photos paying tribute to Jackson.
Jackson only visited Budapest three times. Once in 1994, to shoot a promotional video for his HIStory album, once in 1996 to check out a concert venue, and again in 1996 for the only concert he ever gave in Budapest (part of his HIStory world tour). Prior to 1989, Hungary was controlled by the Soviet Union, and acts like Jackson’s were not welcome.
If you stroll down Raday Street in District IX, you may come across this golden bear. He sits in front of the Púder Bárszínház restaurant.
Raday Street is in the historic Ferencváros district and boasts many restaurants, including Costes, Budapest’s first Michelin-starred restaurant.
Bela Lugosi Bust (District XIV)
Since he died in 1956, you may not be familiar with Bela Lugosi. He was a Hungarian actor who became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He is most famous for his portrayal of Dracula.
If you visit the Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park, you can see a bust of Bela Lugosi. It was placed in an empty nook on the castle in the dark of night (how fitting) by the German artist who created the bust. You would be unlikely to notice it unless you were looking for it. You can read more about this bust and the artist’s escapades in other cities in this Atlas Obscura article.
Budapest is divided into 23 districts. As you can see in this list, there is a lot to see in District V. This is no surprise since it is the downtown/tourist area.
District VII is the former Jewish Quarter and is heavy on nightlife. The three ruin bars mentioned here are in District VII.
The mini statues have been placed throughout the city and make for fun exploring if time permits. Personally, I love this city and can find entertaining delights no matter where I go.
I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the off-beat sights and activities in Budapest. Of course, Budapest is chock full of elegance as well. You can see some of that in The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos.
There are many ways to get around in Budapest. In addition to an extensive metro system, there are taxis, buses, trams, trains, and bicycles. There is even a chairlift to get to the top of Janos Hill. But for Steve and me, the most enjoyable way to get around the city is by electric scooter. At least it was until I had not one, but two, scooter accidents within a month.
Freedom After Lockdown
We arrived in Budapest in March of 2020. The entire country shut down just a few days later because of COVID-19. During the three-month shutdown, we limited our time in public. When the shutdown ended, we discovered the fun of scootering around the city.
We were nervous about riding next to heavy traffic, so we limited our scooter outings to Sunday mornings and holidays when the streets were less crowded.
Fun While it Lasted (Accident #1)
For the next few months, we would get out early on Sunday. We zipped around Budapest from City Park to Margaret Island. From the Castle District to the Palace District.
Then one Sunday, we were riding in the bike lane on Andrassy Avenue. As I approached an intersection, a young man stepped off the curb and into my path. He had failed to look both ways, relying on the convention that all traffic must stop when a pedestrian enters the striped crosswalk.
I swerved left, then right, then left again. He stepped forward, then backward, then forward again. I barely avoided hitting him. I hit the back of a parked car instead. I was going too fast to stop and bear all the blame.
Results of Accident #1
I was fortunate that my only physical injury was a scraped elbow. But my pride and confidence were seriously shaken.
We aren’t sure what damage I caused to the car since it already had a lot of dents and scratches. Steve took several pictures of the car and left our contact information under a wiper blade. We headed home on foot.
A few weeks later, we got a call from the owner of the car. We met with him and filled out insurance paperwork, which of course, we couldn’t read because it was in Hungarian. We also submitted forms to LimeBike.
As of this writing, we have not heard anything else about this issue.
Down, But Not Out
This accident shook me up, but I decided that it wouldn’t stop me from riding scooters. I would just have to be more careful.
Realizing that it could have been much worse, I bought a helmet and wore it every time I rode.
Even with the helmet, I was nervous. Steve would often get ahead of me because he was going at a normal speed. Then he would stop and wait for me.
Just one month later, it happened again. This time I didn’t damage any property, but I did end up in the ER.
We were heading home after exploring Obudai Island. We were traveling on a narrow sidewalk right next to a road. The next thing I know, I was reaching out with my left foot and then tumbling into the road.
It was a good thing I was wearing my helmet because my head bounced off the road. Fortunately, there weren’t any cars coming in my direction at that time.
A family was driving by and saw me fall. They stopped to help. They asked if I would like to go to the hospital. I was pretty shaken up, had a big bump on the back of my head, and was concerned about a concussion, so I said yes.
It seemed like a bit of overkill, but since we don’t have a car, the good samaritans called an ambulance. And because the accident occurred on a state road, the police were summoned as well.
Passing the Test
While we waited for the ambulance, the police recorded what had happened. That is when we found out that you need a valid driver’s license to ride an electric scooter. Fortunately, I had my Florida license with me, and that was satisfactory.
Then they did a breathalyzer test. I am happy to say I passed with flying colors since my last drink was peach juice.
Now it was time to head to the hospital.
Not Quick, But Cheap
I was taken to the Hungarian Army Medical Center (Magyar Honvédség Egészségügyi Központ). As in the U.S., we had a long wait in the ER, but it was a much better experience than Steve had after his skiing accident in Bulgaria. You can read about that in Hospitalized in Bulgaria.
This hospital was clean, almost everyone was wearing masks, and most of the staff spoke English. After a cat scan, I was given a clean bill of health and sent home. Besides the bump on my head, I had an abrasion on my other elbow and a huge bruise behind one knee.
The whole thing, including the ambulance ride, only cost US$230. The most painful part was the realization that I had reached the point in life in which I can’t safely do everything I want to.
Just like Steve swore off skiing after his accident, I swore off electric scooters that day.
But There’s More
A few weeks after my second accident, I received a letter from the Budapest police. It was in Hungarian, but I got the gist of it by using Google Translate. It said that because I had a motor vehicle accident on a state road, I was subject to a US$500 fine. I wasn’t sure if the letter was a warning or if I would be fined. After a few emails, I was assured that this was only a warning. I was also told that future infractions would not be dealt with so leniently.
As you can see, while I was not a successful scooter rider, things could have been much worse.
How to Use LimeBike Scooters
Carefully. Very carefully, lol.
Seriously though, it is easy to rent scooters using the LimeBike app. After setting up your account, all you have to do is pull up the map showing where available scooters are located. You located a nearby scooter, press a few buttons, and you’re good to go.
Once you arrive at your destination, park it out of the way, making sure it is not in a no-locking zone. The app makes this easy.
If you are stopping for a time, be sure to pause or lock the scooter. You can always get another one when you are ready to ride again. They are everywhere in the touristy areas.
If you ride scooters, please be careful and consider wearing a helmet.
We have only used a few bike share apps, but they were a pain to use. The LimeBike app was the easiest we have used. Be warned, though; it is not the most economical way to get around.
What Does it Cost to Use a LimeBike Scooter?
I am not even going to attempt to analyze the price structure. I can tell you this: the average amount we spent per outing (which could be more than one ride) was US$10 per person.
If you want to get around quickly and inexpensively, you are better off with the metro and tram system or the buses. If you want to have a little fun and don’t mind spending more, a scooter might be just the thing.
A Final Word of Warning
Even if you don’t ride scooters, you are still at risk from them. Throughout Budapest, it is common to see electric scooters, bikes, and even motorcycles being ridden on sidewalks. A good habit to develop as a pedestrian is to walk as if you were driving a car. If you want to “change lanes”, glance behind you first. We have been amazed at how close to pedestrians riders will come without giving any warning.
If you want to learn more about e-scooters, here are two articles that may be of interest to you:
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